November 30, 2020

THE YELLOW VESTS WERE NEVER ANY MORE THAN THE TEA PARTY...:

French Republican hypocrisy and the long slow descent into reaction: Macron's shift to the right appears to have been a long time coming. But recent events show how quickly a slide towards authoritarianism can take place. (Aurelien Mondon, 30 November 2020, openDemocracy)

Sarkozy was elected after a campaign in which he unashamedly hunted on Front National territory, promising that he would go and get Jean-Marie Le Pen's voters "one by one" if necessary. That he did, and the old extreme right leader suffered a severe defeat. However, on the night of the first round, Marine Le Pen, his campaign director, declared that the defeat was irrelevant as the campaign marked the victory of their ideas.

This was prescient and during his reign, Sarkozy not only helped normalise the far right party through his tough discourse on security, but also entrenched a reactionary understanding of a number of key Republican concepts in public discourse. By 2012, it was accepted across the political spectrum that laïcité, which had consecrated the separation of church and state in 1905, was in danger and that stringent laws against certain communities must be passed to prevent its demise and that of the Republic itself. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, Sarkozy and his government diverted attention to Muslim communities and a pseudo national identity crisis, which they believed would be more easily addressed than the economic one.

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, Sarkozy and his government diverted attention to Muslim communities and a pseudo national identity crisis, which they believed would be more easily addressed than the economic one.

This culminated in the 2010 Law banning face coverings in public spaces. It was clear then that the law was not about any and all face coverings, but targeted the burqa, and through it shone the spotlight on racialised Muslim communities who had grown increasingly vilified and demonised in the 2000s. The 2004 law against religious symbols in schools had already demonised young girls and their families by forcing them to remove particular garments, without ever considering these may be a choice and that their forcible removal was indeed a curtailment of both freedom of expression and religion, whilst serving to further isolate those who were forced to wear it, risking them being taken out of schools altogether.

As with the 2004 law, the law of 2010 was pitched as an emancipatory law, with Eric Besson, a former socialist at the head of the Orwellian Minister of Immigration and National Identity, declaring that it would be an opportunity for 'social life and civilization to be explained' to the victims. As always, there was no thought given to the agency of these women, or to the very simple fact that were they forced to wear the burqa, preventing them from wearing it public would most likely mean they would be forced into remaining in the private sphere, further limiting their freedom. Women wearing the burqa (less than 2000 by most counts) were turned into both threats and victims in typically orientalist tropes, and almost never consulted/given voice in discussions on the issue. As is always the case with liberal islamophobia and racism more generally, justifications based on potentially liberal and progressive tropes such as women's rights are only ever truly anchored in the othering and demonising of Muslims. The irony wasn't lost when ten years later face coverings would become compulsory in France... [...]

Since the reshuffle in the summer amidst the Coronavirus crisis, Macron has taken a further shift to the right, as exemplified by the appointment of Jean Castex as Prime Minister and Gérald Darmanin as Minister of the Interior. This ideological positioning appears to have been a long time coming, as exemplified by the interview Macron gave to Valeurs Actuelles, a major far right magazine, in October 2019.

What is currently taking place in France is therefore not something that has emerged out of the blue, whether in terms of Macron's own trajectory or the way in which French politics and public discourse have been skewed to the right since the turn of the century. However, recent events have demonstrated how quickly a slide towards authoritarianism can take place.

Following the Valeurs Actuelles interview, it was hardly surprising to witness the return of a reactionary understanding of laïcité to the forefront of French politics, despite Macron having attempted early on in his presidency to offer a more nuanced approach. In early October, the president, announcing a new action plan on laïcité, declared that 'the country is sick from its communautarisme and from a political Islam that wants to topple the values of the Republic'. As France was mourning tens of thousands of deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic, this diversion was reminiscent of Sarkozy's own shameless diversion on a pseudo national identity crisis as France battled its most severe economic downturn in recent history.

...a racial reaction.

Posted by at November 30, 2020 12:50 PM

  

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