Do France’s values of equality extend to its Muslims?
Razzy Hammadi was elected France’s Socialist Party deputy from the department of Seine-Saint Denis, home to 600,000 Muslims.
Muslims make up approximately 10 percent of France’s population, yet despite claiming to be a country of equality, its Arab and Muslim communities appear to be vastly underrepresented in its political makeup.
That’s not to say there aren’t any in power - there are - and those that have made it seem to have climbed high in the political hierarchy.
Among those to make it - despite being “perceived differently” - is Razzy Hammadi, who became the country’s Socialist Party (PS) deputy from the department of Seine-Saint Denis, a district north of Paris, and home to one of France’s highest concentrations of Muslims.
“Despite being a country where we are all supposed to be equal, we [Muslims] are always perceived differently in French society,” Hammadi, told Al Arabiya News.
And the politician, who was born in Toulon, France to an Algerian father and a Tunisian mother, said he needed to be even more cautious following the deadly Paris attacks.
Earlier in January, France witnessed the deadliest attack on French soil in 50 years when two Islamist gunmen stormed the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killing 12 people.
“People look at us according to our origins and religion, so we always have to do more than the others and be irreproachable,” he said, adding that he thinks twice before commenting on an event, especially one that involves Islam.
But it seems that the 36-year-old has himself not always been blameless. Video footage exists that shows him fighting with what he has described as a “group of thugs.”
In the video, which emerged in 2014, the politician appeared dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, shouting insults at a group of young men.
He defended his actions, saying, “no one could understand the images” without knowing the state of fear his companion, his friends and he were in.
Hammadi added: “Again, as a Muslim and Arab some people would use any opportunity to describe us as violent and deviant.”
From Hammadi to Dati
Hammadi is not the only politician of Arab origin to climb to political heights in France. Former Minister of Justice Rachida Dati and Education Minister Najat Vallaud Belckacem are both Muslims.
Speaking about his fellow politicians, Hammadi said: “Dati and Belckacem are proof that some people of Arab origin can make it to the top with hard work.”
“It has nothing to do with religion or origins. Like in any other society, there are people who make it and others who don’t,” he added.
Hammadi was elected France’s Socialist Party deputy from the department of Seine-Saint Denis, a northeastern suburb - or banlieue - of Paris that has 600,000 Muslims.
“My origins or religion did not influence my election at all,” he said. “As a politician, I have tried hard to avoid mentioning my religion or origins in my speeches, but it is not always enough.”
Seine-Saint-Denis is the French department with the highest concentration of immigrants. It frequently witness acts of violence - including riots and shootings. In 2005, the suburb witnessed some of the fiercest rioting by Muslim youths that saw more than 9,000 cars torched.
But Hammadi said: “There is a form of balance in Seine Saint-Denis between Muslims and other communities despite what people say.”
“Everyone gets along well,” Hammadi, who was the former president of the Young Socialist Movement or Mouvement des jeunes socialiste, added.
He said the problem was “social and not religious,” and he proposed that the government come up with a plan.
“Seine-Saint Denis needs a massive development plan and a budget that would bring the department to the same level as central Paris,” Hammadi said.
Recently, teachers in Seine-Saint Denis called for a more equal education system between the department and other French cities.
The Muslim-dominated suburb also known locally as “ninety-three” or “nine three,” after the first two digits of its postal code, has one of the highest unemployment rates in France.