Sep 23, 2016
CHATRES, FRANCE — Nationalists in France are the latest group to get a boost from anti-immigrant sentiment seen rising across the Europe.
Like the famed stained glass in Chartres' ancient cathedral, the population of France has many facets.
Away from the city center, this is the newer face of France. Immigrant workers, many from Muslim countries, whose parents the country once welcomed as cheap labor, now speak of discomfort and rejection, after a series of Islamist terror attacks.
“We are afraid that the angry, extreme right wing will hit us. Now, I go into a café and people look at me strangely. For example, I am the son of Kurds, nothing to do with religion. I am Muslim but not observant. But in France because of the news, of TV, politics, there are so many things that have changed against foreigners, totally," said Polat Mansur, a Kurdish immigrant.
In the wake of the attacks, a backlash against immigrants, especially those who are Muslim, can be seen in growing support for the National Front, the party of immigration critic Marine Le Pen.
"Marine Le Pen has had a constant message that one cannot say has been anything but clear: Immigration must be severely regulated. We must regain control of our borders and abandon the Schengen zone which has been very catastrophic,” said the National Front's Francis Nadizi.
In its stance against porous borders, in Europe's case, Schengen, and immigration, the National Front finds common ground with other nationalists on the continent - and across the sea.
Not only in Chartres, but elsewhere in France, Muslim immigrants interviewed believe a victory by U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump could further encourage French voters to support anti-immigrant populists.
“It will create more racism and it will create problems in America and in France as well. The National Front will gain support in France. Why? Because the French will see that if he wins, he will cause the French to change their way of thinking and say ‘why should we not do the same as the Americans?'" said Ahmed Loutfy, a French Muslim.
Some, but not all Muslim immigrants here in Chartres agree.
As in other parts of France, here the topic of Muslim immigrants and their families is a touchy one. Chartres was the hometown one of the attackers last November in Paris.
Some longtime residents, like Patrick Laurens, say they choose not to let that or other events change the way they see their Muslim neighbors.
“Me, I am not a racist. A Muslim is a Muslim. A Christian is a Christian. We do not have the same point of view, but everyone should respect the other and everything will go better in the world. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks like I do,” said Laurens.
While we found no one who supports Trump among French Muslims here, there was little love for his opponent. Many blame Hillary Clinton for the Middle East policies of the current US administration, of which she was a part, arguing intervention in the region helped give rise to the new terrorists -- with whom ordinary Muslims are sometimes conflated.