France: ‘Je suis Kebab’ Muslims protest against anti-immigration mayor

Robert Menard doesn’t approve of kebabs. The 62-year-old Frenchman was a longtime journalism advocate, founding the international non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders in 1985, but for the past year he has been the mayor of Beziers, a small town near the Mediterranean coast in southwest France.

Since entering politics, he has loudly pursued an anti-immigrant agenda, even going so far as to count the Muslim schoolchildren in his city.  Now kebabs, a staple food for many immigrants in Europe, have become his latest target.

In response, a large number of French citizens are fighting back — around 40,000, to be more precise.

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The trouble began last week, when a video of Menard ranting against kebab restaurants in his city was aired on French TV. In the video, the mayor justified his decision to block restaurants opening in Beziers’s historic city center by explaining: “We are a nation of Judeo-Christian tradition.” Menard then said that there were too many kebabs in his town, and that he would block new kebab restaurants opening in Beziers.

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After the clip aired, Menard doubled down on his anti-kebab statements. “I do not want Beziers to become the capital of kebabs,” he wrote on Twitter. “These shops have nothing to do with our culture!”

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Menard’s comments sparked a debate in a country that has long struggled with immigration and often prides itself on its distinct national identity. But the mayor may not be pleased with one response to his plan: 50.000 people have said they will visit Beziers (which has a population of approximately 80,000) for an “International Festival of Kebabs” next year.

That “festival” is the brainchild of Baptiste Fluzin, a Paris-based executive who has no ties to Bezier. Fluzin told The Washington Post that he was appalled by Menard’s comments and created a Facebook event page to mock him. “I think that stupid politicians needs to be laughed at,” Fluzin said. “We need to hold a mirror to their stupidity instead of being shocked.”

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“Menard is just someone aging badly, and he tries to feel important by jumping from one controversy to another,” he said, explaining that the former journalist had made an “incomprehensible turn” since leaving Reporters Without Borders.