French presidential election: Why the political establishment must reckon with the costs of Islamophobia to the economy

Islamophobia is the one subject that unites all corners of the French political spectrum, but it is a bad economic strategy that is forcing skilled Muslim workers out,

writes Yasser Louati

French Muslims

Growing racism in France has forced many Muslims to leave the country. [GETTY]

There may be a continuous shift in French public debate, but one subject that remains consistent, is the paranoia around national identity and the presence of Muslims.

Indeed, centring racist narratives within French political discourse has always served as a foundation to national tragedies. 

Weather it’s the far-left parties, Luttes Ouvrirères (French Communist Party) and Jean Luc Melenchon’s La France Insoumise, or far-right candidates, Marine Le Pen (National Rally) and Eric Zemmour, the French political spectrum is united when it comes to Muslims. 

Both sides have developed their own version of the conspiracy that there is a Muslim demographic threat. 

For the right, it’s the renowned ‘great replacement’ theory, which was coined by Renaud Camus, and was referenced in the manifesto of the Christchurch terrorist who gunned down 51 people in a mosque in New Zealand. The left adopts Laurent Bouvet’s ‘cultural insecurity’ which is no less violent in what it denotes about Muslims and migrants “taking over” so-called white lands, though it is not as well-known outside of France.

”The French economy takes a hit of at least €150 billion euros per year due to discrimination within employment. This figure not only shatters France’s myth of equality, but it also raises more questions about conditions being so unbearable for Muslims, that they feel they have no other option but to leave the country. 

In so many ways, France has been the laboratory of islamophobia. But all of these ‘debates’ about the Muslim threat, have dire consequences on the lives of Muslims, and their role in the French economy. 

Muslims in France live with the constant fear of being attacked by the state as well as in the streets. Lest we forget the foiled terrorist attacks in 2019, or the brutal state of emergency in 2015, and then most recently, Macron’s aggressive policies targeting civil liberties and religious freedoms under the guide of fighting “Islamic separatism.” 

The growing rate of young Muslim graduates and professionals facing disproportionate levels of discrimination whilst applying for jobs, or even when trying to find decent housing, are not even mentioned amongst candidates and pundits. No, the endless racial profiling, and the increased chances of North Africans (the largest minority, and majority Muslim) dying at a young age are all not a cause for concern. 

A lot has been said about France’s obsession with Muslims, and how the so called ‘cradle of human rights’ was the first the pass laws specifically targeting the community: starting with schools, then workplaces and eventually the wider public space. But little has been written about the silent exodus of French Muslims to less hostile environments like the UK and Canada.

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In truth, this should be a primary concern to those leading the country, or hoping to, given the economic cost of this continued racism. 

As academic, Olivier Esteves from the University of Lille, who researches this pattern of migration, told The New York Times: “France is really shooting itself in the foot.”

In fact, the government’s think-tank, France Stratégie, reported that the French economy takes a hit of at least €150 billion per year due to discrimination within employment. This figure not only shatters France’s myth of equality, but it also raises more questions about conditions being so unbearable for Muslims, that they feel they have no other option but to leave the country. 

This is perhaps not very surprising when you take the recent case of a Muslim pilot for French airline HOP! who lost his job for going to the toilet “too often,” which to the company, indicated signs of “radicalisation”. 

”How on earth is an economy supposed to function, let alone thrive, when companies have internal directives that prohibit the recruitment of non-white candidates? ”

Let’s put the moral argument to the side and just address this issue in capitalist terms, given how much ‘the economy’ is of importance.

If we consider that each person more or less goes through the schooling system, studies the expected ten years, then spends another four, five or six years in higher education. This is easily a twenty year investment of public funds in a person with an expected return on investment in the form of creation of wealth, payment of taxes, developing the influence of their home country, its prosperity etc…

This is seriously disrupted when a graduate is then told that they can apply, but won’t be hired for a job because they decided to wear a headscarf, or because the recruitment manager does not like Muslims, Arabs, and black people. How on earth is an economy supposed to function, let alone thrive, when companies have internal directives that prohibit the recruitment of non-white candidates? Which is already the case with major companies like. AdeccoAir France, Accor, Altran, Arkéma, Renault, Rexel or Sopra Steria.

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French TV channel TF1,

Just imagine the astronomical losses from millions of people who are facing the prospect of discrimination. 

What happens if they start to leave and work in rival economies like the US, UK, China, or the Gulf?

As a business owner in any of these countries, hiring someone who graduated from high-quality education in France and who speaks at least two languages, is incredibly profitable.

This lack of foresight truly raises the question on whether policy makers and media pundits are capable of thinking beyond their immediate little gains.

Alas, France is a country that would rather lose its most skilled minds, just so some can feel a sense of racial superiority.

Rather than addressing this strategic mistake during his term, Emmanuel Macron has passed laws that make life even more difficult for Muslim workers. His opponents don’t promise anything better, however. 

Yes, the future of French politics is stark and no one can really blame those who leave.

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