French far-right accuse Karim Benzema of 'being an Islamist' for wearing Saudi national dress
Jordan Bardella, president of the far-right National Rally party, accused the Al-Ittihad football player of "condoning Islamism" after the Frenchman celebrated Saudi National Day on Saturday by wearing a thobe (a long-flowing traditional robe) and ghuttra (a headscarf).
Benzema, who signed with the Jeddah-based club in June, captioned the photo: "Look at the life we have". This was followed by a white heart emoji, and the comment: "Happy Saudi National Day."
Following the photo, which made national news in France, Bardella said he was "shocked" by Benzema’s post and choice of clothing, during a show on French TV channel BFM.
Jordan Bardella sur Karim Benzema en tenue traditionnelle saoudienne: "Je pense qu'il est un compagnon de route de l'idéologie islamiste" pic.twitter.com/PEE6qrBsui— BFMTV (@BFMTV) September 24, 2023
The hard-right leader then claimed that Benzema made the move to Saudi Arabia as he "wanted an Islamist lifestyle" and claimed the Ballon d'Orr winner "supported Islamist ideologies."
Other journalists on the panel questioned Bardella’s comments, who justified his remarks by saying Benzema had previously said "it feels good" to live and work in a Muslim country.
Continuing his tirade, the politician said: "If those wanting an Islamist lifestyle could move to Islamist countries, perhaps France would be better off."
French people lambasted Bardella's remarks, pointing out that several other foreign footballers playing in Saudi Arabia had posed in traditional clothing to mark the Gulf state's national day but nothing was said about them.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays for Al-Nassr, and Al-Ettifaq manager Steven Gerrard donned the thobe and ghuttra as they celebrated the Saudi holiday. Ronaldo even appeared in a video with his teammates as they showcased Saudi culture.
Other people said Bardella should instead focus on France's ongoing crises, including the rising cost of living, political scandals, and school bullying.
This isn’t the first time Benzema, considered among France's all-time footballing greats, has been linked to "Islamism".
Another French far-right politician Damien Rieu posted an image of the footballer with an imam, whose home was raided following the beheading of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty in 2020.
In another tweet, Rieu posted a picture of the 35-year-old raising his index finger and three other images showing extremist militants making the same gesture.
Benzema went on to sue Rieu for defamation two years later.
France, despite being home to Western Europe's largest Muslim population, has often greenlighted several laws perceived as religiously discriminatory throughout the years.
More recently, the country has placed a ban on the wearing of abayas - a loose robe-like garment often sported by Muslim women - in state schools.