A government blueprint for addressing poverty, unemployment and crime in France’s poorest, high-immigration suburbs ignores Islam’s role in the growing social crisis, a controversial mayor has said.
Robert Menard, mayor of the southern town of Béziers and an ally of Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration and Euroskeptic National Front party, said on Friday that a government initiative aimed at alleviating France’s urban poverty failed to identify the roots of the problem. A video with a part of his appearance on a show, on France’s LCI channel, has been published online.
Menard said that projects designed to revitalize the country’s suffering suburbs have largely focused on cosmetic changes. Menard noted that even after a troubled neighborhood in his town had received 130 million euros for a new housing project, the situation did not improve.
“It has never been as much a ghetto and apartheid as now!” Menard insisted.
When another guest suggested that “we finished the real estate – now we have to take care of the jobs, public services, and all the rest,” Menard shot back: “But that’s not the problem! The problem in those neighborhoods is Islam.” The mayor then invited his fellow television guests to look for themselves. “Where do you live? Go into those neighborhoods and you’ll see,” he added.
A recent report authored by former French minister Jean-Louis Borloo recommends 19 social and economic programs to help France’s most downtrodden, immigrant-heavy suburbs. The report was billed as French President Emmanuel Macron’s answer to growing concern over social and economic tensions in the country. However, according to Menard, the 60-page report made no mention of Islam.
Menard has been an outspoken and highly controversial anti-migrant campaigner. In October 2016, the French mayor put up posters around his town warning that the state had “imposed” migrants on Béziers.
“I’ll do everything to ensure that these migrants don’t settle in,” Menard said in an interview at the time.
In April 2017, Menard was fined 2,000 euros ($2,400) for “inciting hatred” against Muslims. The right-wing mayor had complained that there were too many Muslim children in the town’s schools.