President Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election campaign in France is getting a little desperate, and more than a little ugly. Although new polls show him the likely top vote-getter in next month’s first-round voting, they also show him running well behind François Hollande of the Socialist Party in the decisive May runoff. To try and close that gap, Mr. Sarkozy has been fishing for far-right voters by assailing foreign immigrants, foreign imports and even the dietary laws of French Muslims.
Mr. Sarkozy may think it is smart politics to pander to racism and xenophobia. He has done it before. And, sadly, his harsh new tone has given him a quick boost in the polls. But it is damaging to French society. And it may prove a mixed political blessing in May. Many French voters already think that he lacks presidential dignity.
Times are tough in France, but Mr. Sarkozy could have run a more elevated campaign. He has domestic achievements (pension reform) and international achievements (Libya). His main opponent, Mr. Hollande, has vague ideas and unrealistic economic proposals.
Instead, Mr. Sarkozy has chosen the low road. At a packed rally on Sunday, he attacked European Union trade rules, which he said had opened French markets to “savage” competition, and called for a protectionist “buy European” rule for public spending that would raise costs and invite retaliation. He also threatened to suspend French participation in Europe’s 25-nation open border agreement unless others did more to keep illegal immigrants and refugees out of Europe. A few days earlier, he had attacked legal immigration, promising a 50 percent cut in admissions for family reunification.
In a particularly vile gambit from a man who already brags about banning the burqa in public and Muslim-style street prayer, Mr. Sarkozy now pledges to protect French consumers from unknowingly eating halal meat, slaughtered in accordance with Muslim dietary codes. He called for legislation requiring all meat labels to note the slaughtering methods used. This proposal originally came from Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate of the unabashedly xenophobic National Front. Mr. Sarkozy first rightly called it frivolous. Then he adopted it.
Five million to six million Muslims now live in France, almost a tenth of the total population. It is cruel to keep family members from joining them and cruel and destructive to subject their religion to mockery. Ms. Le Pen is currently running third in the polls. Regrettably, Mr. Sarkozy has no problem being frivolous or cruel if it means he can peel away some of her voters.
France: Est-ce que l’anti-immigrant et la rhétorique de campagne islamophobe fomentent antisémitisme en France?
Courtesy of Juan Cole
As French police launch a massive manhunt for the person who shot down a rabbi, his two children, and another child outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, the modus operandi of the killer raises a chilling prospect. There had been similar shootings of French soldiers in the area, but the troops, three of whom were shot dead by a similar weapon by a motorcyclist, were of North African or Caribbean origin. Police are looking both at a the French far-right and at Muslim extremists as possible perpetrators. In the former case, the French political atmosphere would be implicated. [Update: As it turns out, it may be the latter: a potential suspect has been cornered, who was motivated by al-Qaeda-style extremism, the mother of all intolerant rhetoric. It is a little disturbing that his killing of 3 French troops (if it was he), two of them Muslim, is gradually dropping out of the press reporting. This breaking development does not, as some tweep suggested, blunt the force of the rest of this post, below.]
Immigrants and especially Muslims have been frequent targets of racism and racist rhetoric in French politics. President Nicolas Sarkozy was behind in the polls recently when he made up some ground with some strident rhetoric about too-free immigration inside the European Union. There are, he thundered, “too many foreigners in France.” (Hint: French antisemites view Jews as foreigners). Sarkozy has been accused of legitimating the National Front of his far-right rival Marine Le Pen by essentially stealing some of her anti-immigrant rhetoric. Indeed, he seems to be attracting her supporters.
It is in this hothouse atmosphere where it is being alleged that some French (non-Catholics, non-Gaulois) are less French than others, and are, indeed, undesirables within the French body politic, that the brutal murders of Jews outside Ozar ha-Torah in Toulouse took place.
Those on the Zionist far right who deliberately and systematically attempt to foment hatred of Muslims, are always in danger of at the same time promoting antisemitism. The same resentments, the same sordid politics and racist rhetoric, come into play for both. Sarkozy, by dirtying the Gaullist tradition with Le-Pen-iste rhetoric, is creating an atmosphere of intolerance in France that may not be entirely unrelated to the murders of innocent children and a man of God in Toulouse.
Controversy surrounding my last post titled “Mohammed Merah, la victime de la République”
Apparently, my last post on Mohammed Merah has caused some controversies. Some people are shocked by the use of the word victim and Merah in the same sentence. I am told that at the dailykos, i have earned the status of an apologist for Merah’s actions, and have been accused of trying to explain away his horrible acts and justify them. Of course, i am not doing that and anyone who has 2 fully functioning neurons had already understood that. Well, i do not have the time right now to write a proper reply in my own defense, though i really don’t need any nor do i feel the need to justify myself to people who have no idea what i am talking about, but i would like to say that the day we stop trying to understand our actions, and we stop trying to understand and explain horrible events–no matter how horrible they are–is the day we lose our humanity. And if we reach that day, we might as well load a gun and shoot ourselves in the head and get it over with.
So let’s talk about Mohamed Merah (for my American readers and followers who are not up-to-date on this story here is a CNN link and BCC top 10 articles on this incident, which should be enough to bring you up to speed). I didn’t want to write anything about this story for the simple reason that I thought it didn’t need more attention that it already had. However, after reading whatever was written on this terrorist/murder/killing-spree incident, and watching news summaries linked to it, I noticed something that bothered me a lot; something that was missing from the debate surround this incident. The way the whole story was presented was as if Merah and what he did was sui generis; he came out of nowhere; those incidents were not caused by any structural and/or institutional variables. For French politicians, pundits, and blowhards alike, Merah was just like Jesus; both men were the result of an immaculate conception. However, Merah’s immaculate conception was neither biological nor divine; it was institutional and structural conception. For them, Merah just hated so much the Jews and the French soldiers, and loved so much radical Islam that he woke up one day and decided to kill some Jews and some soldiers. This explanation is as misleading as idiotic. No one has yet to ask: how did Merah get to this point? What are the structural reasons? Are there institutional causes? No one wants to ask these tough questions because no one likes or wants to hear the answers.
Because of this, I decided to bestow on Mohammed Merah the status of victim. Yes, he was actually a victim, and no one dared to say it. But how can I say that Merah was a victim when he was allegedly accused (I am using “allegedly” because the courts and/or the prosecutors have not yet indicted and/or charged Merah with these crimes) of killing 3 Jewish kids, 3 soldiers and 1 adult male? Have I lost my mind? Have I lost all sense of compassion for the victims? Am I justifying these horrendously inhumane crimes? No, I have not and i do not by any stretch of the imagination. Merah is as much a killer as he is a victim. He is victim of the French Republic; he is the victim of his own name, his own skin color, of his own accent, of his own religion, of his own appearance, of his own history, of his own socioeconomic situation, of his own culture, and of his own identity. Everyone of these aspects of his victimhood (or victimology as criminalists would called it) were aggravated, manipulated, isolated, amplified and used against Merah by the French Republic to shame him, to isolate him, to degrade him, to debase him, to dehumanize him, and to strip him of any honor and any pride in himself, his family, his community, and his country.
Merah was an outcast living in a society that despised his forefathers, his fathers, and despised him. He was living in a country that dehumanized his forefathers, his fathers, and dehumanized him. He grew up seeing his parents disrespected and afraid of whom they are. He was probably ashamed of his father’s accent, his grammar mistakes, and he wanted so much his daddy to just speak like a “normal” Frenchman. As a young kid in school, Merah had probably asked himself several times, “why don’t I have blue eyes and a fair skin? Why is my name so different and so hated and synonymous with ugliness and poverty? If only my name was Francois or Jacques or Pierre, and I had fair skin and blue eyes, I wouldn’t be living in these dire conditions.”
Merah was ashamed of his religious tradition because he was told repeatedly that Islam is an evil and backward religion. He was told that the hijab that his grandmothers wore for years, and probably his mother too, wasn’t a religious practice, but a sign of proselytism, fanaticism, and inferiority that was not welcome in the Republic. He was told that the Republic would fight and criminalize his religious tradition. He was told that he lived in a secular country, yet he noticed that Catholic holidays are recognized and celebrated while his are demeaned and forgotten. He was told that he lived in a country that did not distinguish at all between all religions, yet he watched his father pray in a dilapidated cave-like make-shift mosques while churches are erected at every corner like majestic architectural marvels.
Merah was ashamed of his history and the history of his community because his forefathers migrated to France as second-class indigenous Muslims who were neither Algerians nor French. Politically speaking, his fathers and grandfathers were bastards as far as the French Republic was concerned. And even when his father embraced the Republic and became a French citizen, the Republic never embraced him back. In fact, the Republic fought his father’s religion and origin and wanted him to erase his distinctiveness and live in a cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic vacuum; a no-man’s-land identity where he could neither prosper as a French citizen nor could he be proud of his Algerian heritage. So his father was just like his grandfather: a bastard of the Republic. This didn’t change with Merah. Although he is of this new generation, these young beurres who were born in 1980s and 1990s and think they are fully assimilated into the French societal fabric. But to Merah great sadness and psychological despair, he discovered that to be assimilated in the French societal fabric he needed to radically change and become someone else. He found out that speaking French without an accent wasn’t enough. He needed to strip himself of his religion, his past, his culture, and hide who he really is so deep in the confines of his psyche that no one would dare call him anything else but French. But every time Merah rode the train, he was reminded that he didn’t look “French”. Every time he wanted to talk to a pretty “French” girl, he was reminded of his origins. Every time he crossed the path of a cop, he was reminded that he was presumably guilty, not innocent. Every time he watched politicians on the news, he was reminded of his second-class citizen status. Every time he listened to the minister of Interior (to all of ministers of Interior since 1970s), he was reminded that he and his parents belonged to a backward civilization. Every time he watched his president campaign, he felt that he was just a guest in a foreign country; that he was just an electoral merchandize bartered around between the radical right and the extreme right. Briefly stated, Merah was not French, though he has no other citizenship. He was never French not because of the lack of wanting to be French, but because the French Republic and the French society refused to accept him or accept any of his heritage with respect, dignity, and equality.
See, to be assimilated in the cultural and the sociopolitical fabric of a country, that country has to assimilate you and accept your culture, your ethnicity, and your tradition as well. Assimilation works both ways. Assimilation is an endogenous phenomenon; you embrace a country, and at its turn, the country embraces you too. In the case of Merah and many like him, assimilation meant one thing: leave who you are behind and wear this new foreign suit hoping that the suit would fit you. After a while, Merah felt like a clown who was acting his part in a circus called France. The problem was that Merah was just acting the part, not living or becoming the part. This daily dissociation from reality is hard to maintain, and if a person is not psychologically strong, that person could start looking for alternatives. Unfortunately for Merah, he found an alternative to the republic. A radical and perverted form of a religious belief that provided him with an easy explanation and designated an already guilty target. That’s the whole story of Merah and that is the story that no one is telling out there. No, it is not about Islam and radical fanaticism. It’s all about the Republic and its failed models of integration and assimilation. Yes, Merah pulled the trigger and there is no doubt about that, but we need to backup a little, get our story straight, and determine how he got to that decision. In the case of Merah, genetics loaded the gun, his cultural, social, and political environment aimed the gun, and the French Republic pulled the trigger.
France: Après “Nicolas Le Pen” du Wall Street Journal, voici “Sarkozy sur la route de la bassesse” du New York Times.
In less than 2 days, Nicolas Sarkozy performed a miracle; he brought the editorial page of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal together. Something that we have not seen in a while and we are not about to see any time soon. Indeed, the WSJ editorial page, a bastion of the right and conservatism, has rarely agreed on anything with the editorial page of the NYTimes. Well, Sarkozy’s awfully xenophobic campaign was something that the American left and right agreed to disagree with. Ugly, xenophobic, desperate, racist, radical, divisive, anti-Muslim, frivolous and so on are only a few adjectives used by the NYTimes and the WSJournal editorialists to describe Sarkozy’s campaign. These are journalists and columnists who are used to the rough and tumble American style of politics, and yet they stand bewildered by what Sarkozy and his team have been doing and saying during this campaign.
March 14, 2012
Mr. Sarkozy on the Low Road
Yesterday, in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, i read one of the most damning Op-Ed pieces that i have ever read about a politician. The Wall Street Journal, which can hardly be accused of sympathizing with the left or described as a bastion of liberalism, especially its editorial pages, literally indicted Nicolas Sarkozy as an extreme right candidate. Their reasons? Well, Sarkozy has gone so far to the right in his rhetoric that he is no longer a representative of the mainstream right, but a representative of the radical right. According to the WSJ, Sarkozy can no longer be distinguished from Marine or Jean Marie Le Pen.
Instead of summarizing the editorial piece, i let you read it and make up your mind.
- REVIEW & OUTLOOK EUROPE
- March 13, 2012
Nicolas Le Pen
Even by local standards, the French President’s recent burst of xenophobia is pretty cynical.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ramped up the anti-immigrant rhetoric in recent days, telling a TV audience last week that France has “too many foreigners” and offering to cut the number of immigrants admitted to France by half should he be re-elected to a second term. Then on Sunday, before a monster rally in a stadium near Paris, he threatened to suspend France’s participation in Schengen, Europe’s internal borderless-travel zone, unless it is reformed to better keep out the great unwashed.
Even in France, it rarely gets more cynical than this. The attacks on immigration are an attempt to woo supporters of Marine Le Pen’s xenophobic National Front ahead of the first-round poll on April 22. Mr. Sarkozy trails his Socialist rival, Francois Hollande, 29% to 27%, according to a recent poll for Paris Match magazine. Ms. Le Pen comes in third at 17%. Little wonder that’s where the Sarkozy camp is now mining for votes.
Associated PressFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy
Still, the immigration talk is mainly a cover for French anxiety over their increasingly rickety welfare state. Mr. Hollande’s answer for keeping the system afloat is a 75% top marginal income-tax rate, which may do something for emigration but won’t do anything to improve France’s budgetary health. Mr. Sarkozy, by contrast, argues that “at a time of economic crisis, if Europe doesn’t control who can enter its borders, it won’t be able to finance its welfare state any longer.”
This is an ugly thought, not only for the ugly sentiments on which it plays but also as a textbook example of economic illiteracy. Not least among the threats to France’s welfare state is an aging (and increasingly long-lived) population and a birth rate that—while the highest in Europe—is still below the replacement rate. Barring fundamental cultural changes, only immigration can maintain an active work force large enough to pay for the growing rolls of pensioners and dependents.
The real task for the French government is to ensure that those immigrants are assimilating properly, and to create economic conditions in which they can thrive with the rest of France. Mr. Sarkozy no doubt understands that. But we wonder if Mr. Sarkozy also understands that transparent displays of cynicism like this one have brought him to his current political predicament.