French Républicains primaries: Sarkozy may be out, but the FN spectre will continue to haunt the campaign

(This is a longer version of the piece published in CNN).

The French presidential election campaign is taking shape and mainstream centre-right supporters have decided yesterday that their candidate would be chosen between Alain Juppé and François Fillon on the 24th of November. The big upset was Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat and this could mean a reshuffling of priorities on the centre right.

It will be left to the two former prime ministers to navigate the coming week, and to one of them to lead the mainstream right in what is set to be a decisive moment for French politics next year. Fillon’s decisive and surprising victory in the first round could demonstrate that Juppé’s more conciliatory tone has failed. With over 44% of the vote. Fillon may appear to many as a moderate compared to the hyperactive Sarkozy under whom he served as prime minister, but his neoliberal views coupled with a very conservative approach to societal matters, particularly with regard to identity, immigration and Islam, should allow him to tap into the electorate of his defeated opponents. It was a strong sign that Sarkozy announced he would vote for Fillon as he conceded last night.

As France continues to struggle to escape decidedly from the woes of the global economic crisis, with growth failing to reach predictions and unemployment remaining high, much of the coverage of the campaign so far has given prominence to the Front National, fuelling further the sense of identity crisis away form more economic and social issues. It was telling that the BBC chose Marine Le Pen as their main guest on Remembrance Day.

Continue reading French Républicains primaries: Sarkozy may be out, but the FN spectre will continue to haunt the campaign

Free speech, Islamophobia and the rise of racism in Europe

Monday saw the start of Geert Wilders’ trial for inciting racial hatred following his promise at a 2014 rally in The Hague to reduce the number of Moroccans in the Netherlands. Wilders is the leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands, which has been prominent in Dutch politics since the mid-2000s and known for its extreme Islamophobic position. Early this year, polls suggested that the PVV could win as much as 26% of the vote in the March 2017 general election. While more recent polls suggest the party’s support may have diminished, it still appears to have bounced back from its 2012 slump and remains in a position to win the election.

As is often the case with far-right parties, the trial could either be a setback for the party or, more likely, a blessing in disguise, as the party will benefit from extensive media coverage reinforcing its self-appointed position as anti-elite. What is clear is that Wilders has already attempted to use it to his own advantage, declaring he would not attend what he considered ‘a political trial’, a ‘travesty’ and an attack on free speech. In a typical far-right manoeuvre, a victimised Wilders declared that “if speaking about this is punishable, then the Netherlands is no longer a free democracy but a dictatorship”.

Continue reading Free speech, Islamophobia and the rise of racism in Europe

Defending the indefensible: France, the burkini affair and the further mainstreaming of racism

In the aftermath of the Nice attack on 14 July 2016 and the murder of a priest in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray on 26 July, the burkini became headline material in France when on 28 July, the mayor of Cannes introduced a ban preventing ‘access to beaches and for swimming … to anyone not wearing appropriate clothing, respectful of moral standards and secularism’.

Thirty-one communes passed a law banning the wearing of ‘religious clothing’ on their beach. Of course, this ban did really not target all religions, but was a direct attack against women wearing so-called burkinis, and by extension acted as yet further stigmatisation of anyone associated with Islam.

As had been the case with regard to discussing the place of Islam in France, this debate has been very much one-sided: politicians on both sides of the political spectrum have jockeyed for position to demonstrate who would be toughest against what they all saw as a threat: Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the burkini as ‘an affirmation in the public space of a political islamism’, while former president Nicolas Sarkozy denounced it as a ‘provocation’ in support of radical Islam.

Continue reading Defending the indefensible: France, the burkini affair and the further mainstreaming of racism

Islamophobia(s) in the aftermath of the Nice attack (with Aaron Winter)

This short article is part of a larger project conducted with Dr Aaron Winter studying the rise and interaction of liberal and illiberal Islamophobias in France, the United States and the United Kingdom. The article was first published on E-International Relations

On the 14th of July 2016, the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice ended in a carnage. 84 people were killed when Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove his truck through a crowd of bystanders, men, women and children, who had gather on the Promenades des Anglais to watch the fireworks. Within hours, the French media and politicians denounced yet another ‘Islamist terrorist’ attack, despite the lack of evidence present at this early stage. Even though it appears increasingly that Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s links to terrorism and IS were indeed tenuous at best, Islam, once more in the spotlight in France and Muslim communities in the country (and wider Europe), remain under collective suspicion and as the target of fear and hate. Continue reading Islamophobia(s) in the aftermath of the Nice attack (with Aaron Winter)

Whatever the result, the referendum will further take us away from politics and hope

First published on OpenDemocracy

We are now less than three away from the referendum and it is hard to imagine that this campaign could become any more vile. The ITV debate between David Cameron and Nigel Farage demonstrated the dearth of the choice as it proved hard for many to support either option listening to who was defending them. Yet beyond media soundbites, it would be fascinating to know what Cameron is thinking at the moment, as he witnesses the beast he wilfully allowed out to wreak havoc in his own camp and even put the economic rationale his party traditionally stands for at risk. As reported by a recent IPSOS MORI survey for the Observer, ‘the biggest survey of its kind ever conducted,’ ‘Nine out of 10 of the country’s top economists working across academia, the City, industry, small businesses and the public sector believe the British economy will be harmed by Brexit’. This confirms other claims by prominent experts and stakeholders that if one believes that neo-liberalism and the capitalist system are the basis of a strong national economy, then leaving the European Union would be a terrible, even stupid, idea. This therefore begs the question as to why the Prime Minister, who has declared that he ‘yields to no-one’ in his ‘enthusiasm for capitalism’, would promise a referendum on the question in the first place.

The idea behind the referendum has never been to offer the British people a discussion and ultimate choice between a neo-liberal Europe and a social Britain, something the Conservative party has obviously been working hard to dismantle. The choice is between a neo-liberal UK within a neo-liberal EU and a neo-liberal UK without a neo-liberal EU. Systemic change is out of the question and was never meant to be part of the discussion. As the General Election campaign made clear, the referendum promise was dictated by the Conservatives’ lack of faith in their own beliefs and driven by their fear of a radical right upsurge. In a poorly thought-through manoeuvre, Cameron moved rightward in an attempt to occupy a gap partly filled by UKIP. The Prime Minister shifted his campaign towards the more cultural realm of identity politics, pledging to a fantasised version of the good people of Britain that he would allow xenophobic discourse to be freed as he promised a referendum on the EU (even though UKIP only represented at best just under 1 out of 10 voters). Continue reading Whatever the result, the referendum will further take us away from politics and hope

Debating the future of Europe is essential, but when will we start?

The campaign for the UK referendum appears to have induced the French to confront their own pessimistic view of the Union and its future. A recent poll conducted by Eichhorn et al. in six countries suggested that French respondents were the least keen to see their British counterpart remain in the EU, with 44% declaring that the UK should leave. This was in stark contrast with other countries: Brexit supporters were 27% in Germany, 20% in Poland, 19% in Spain, 21% in Ireland and 33% in Sweden.

Of course, such dissonant results may be partly attributable to the UK’s reputation as an ‘awkward partner’ within the EU, something which has led to multiple feuds between UK and French leaders. However, one cannot ignore that the campaign takes place in a unique environment in France, at a time when one of the leading engines of the European construction is faltering, with warning signs flashing from all directions, and no one seemingly willing to put in the necessary work to get it going again. Beyond the UK’s fate, the same poll highlighted that 53% of French respondents wished for their country to ‘hold a referendum on its EU membership’ and only 45% declared they would vote for France to remain in the Union; 33% would vote for it to leave. Again, these numbers are in stark contrast with Germany in particular, leading the Le Monde correspondent to conclude that ‘while the French profess a relative indifference with regard to the Brexit, they appear as the most eurosceptically worked up country, behind the UK’. Continue reading Debating the future of Europe is essential, but when will we start?

Charlie Hebdo attacks – one year on (BRLSI talk)

Below if the recording and Powerpoint presentation of a talk given at BRLSI on the 19th of January 2016, just over a year after attacks.

This talk is based on part of my current research with Aaron Winter from the University of East London – this paper will be part of a book I am currently co-editing with Gavan Titley (Maynooth university) and Des Freedman and Gholam Khiabany (both from Goldsmiths).

The aim of this talk was to focus on the aftermath of the attacks,  to contextualise the events and offer a more nuanced analysis of their impact on French politics and society.

Audio link

Charlie Hebdo – One year on (powerpoint)

Czy naprawdę „szok”? Front Narodowy wygrywa we Francji

Translated by, and originally published in Polish on Krytyka polityczna.

Politycy głównego nurtu we Francji chcą tylko biernej akceptacji tego, co jest. Nic dziwnego, że Front Narodowy na tym zyskuje.

Jak po każdych wyborach ostatnimi laty, dziś rano Francja obudziła się zszokowana i odrętwiała. Front Narodowy znów na pierwszych stronach gazet – to zresztą już stały motyw. Prawicowy „Le Figaro” i komunistyczna „L’Humanité” drukują ten sam nagłówek: Le Choc.

Z 27,96 procentami głosów partia Marine Le Pen zwyciężyła w skali kraju, z przewagą większą, niż ta przewidywana w sondażach. Centroprawicowa Union de la droite (Republikanie, MoDem i UDI) zajęła drugie miejsce z 26,89 proc. głosów, podczas gdy poparcie Partii Socjalistycznej spadło do 23,33 proc. głosów. To fatalny wynik dla centroprawicy, która w poprzednich dwojgu wyborach w 2004 i 2010 roku wygrała we wszystkich regionach Francji kontynentalnej poza jednym. Continue reading Czy naprawdę „szok”? Front Narodowy wygrywa we Francji

The rise of the Front National is only part of the problem

The rise of the Front National is only part of the problem

The ‘shock’ is not the rise of the Front National, but the failure of the system to bring forward a positive alternative.

Marine Le Pen. Demotix/Francois Pauletto. All rights reserved.

As with every recent election, France woke up this morning shocked and groggy. The Front National is front page material, somewhat of a theme recently. Right-wing Le Figaro and communist L’Humanité share the same title: ‘Le Choc’.

With 27.96% of the vote, Marine Le Pen’s party has come top nationally, leading by a larger margin than predicted by polls. The centre right Union de la droite (Les Républicains, the MoDem and UDI) came in second with 26.89%, while the Parti Socialiste collapsed to 23.33%. This is a terrible result for the centre left who had won in all but one region in continental France in the previous two elections in 2004 and 2010.

Yet can we still call such results a shock in light of the past three years? In 2012, Marine Le Pen received 17.9% of the vote in the presidential elections. Later that year, the party received 13.6% in the legislative elections against the odds set by a majoritarian system which had successfully kept the FN out of the National Assembly since 1988. In 2014, the party won in the European elections with 24.86% of the vote. Finally, in March this year, the FN came third in the departmental elections with 25.24% of the vote in the first round.

Yesterday’s results are no longer out of the ordinary in France, and the media pretending to be shocked by them can only point to denial or utter lack of imagination as to what is to be done to reverse the tide.
Continue reading The rise of the Front National is only part of the problem

Η κήρυξη πολέμου εκ μέρους του Ολάντ δεν θα απαλλάξει την Ευρώπη από την τρομοκρατία

μετάφραση: Στρ. Μπουλαλάκης, Γιάννης Χατζηδημητράκης for ΕΝΘΕΜΑΤΑ

Σκίτσο του Μαρκ Ουίλσον

O Φρανσουά Ολάντ επιβεβαίωσε ότι η γαλλική κυβέρνηση θα υιοθετήσει σκληρή στάση ως απάντηση στις επιθέσεις που πραγματοποιήθηκαν στο Παρίσι στις 13 Νοεμβρίου. Ο σοσιαλιστής Πρόεδρος άφησε να εννοηθεί αρκετές φορές ότι τα αντίποινά του θα ξεπεράσουν σε σφοδρότητα ακόμη και εκείνα του Νικολά Σαρκοζί – του δεξιού προκατόχου του στην προεδρία και αντιπάλου του στις εκλογές του 2017, παρά τη φήμη του τελευταίου ως «σκληρού». Οι γαλλικές δυνάμεις ήδη βομβαρδίζουν τη Συρία.

Η αρχική συναισθηματική αντίδραση του Προέδρου, λίγες ώρες μετά τις επιθέσεις, μπορεί να δικαιολογηθεί λόγω της φρίκης που επικράτησε. Ωστόσο, τις μέρες που ακολούθησαν, πολιτικοί από την Δεξιά ως την Αριστερά και η πλειοψηφία των Μέσων Μαζικής Ενημέρωσης έχουν εγκαταλείψει κάθε σύνεση και λογική. Έχουν προσπαθήσει να ξεπεράσουν ο ένας τον άλλο στην πλειοδοσία των πιο αντιδραστικών, βίαιων και διχαστικών ρητορειών.

Σχεδόν όλοι συμφωνούν ότι η Γαλλία βρίσκεται «σε πόλεμο». Ο πρωθυπουργός Μανουέλ Βαλς μίλησε ακόμη και για «εσωτερικό εχθρό» — μια φράση με έντονη φόρτιση στη γαλλική ιστορία. Εξέχοντες δεξιοί πολιτικοί προχώρησαν ακόμη περισσότερο ζητώντας οι ύποπτοι να φυλακίζονται χωρίς δίκη — μια εκπληκτική πρόταση δεδομένης της σκοτεινής ιστορίας των «στρατοπέδων συγκέντρωσης» στην ευρωπαϊκή πολιτική.
Continue reading Η κήρυξη πολέμου εκ μέρους του Ολάντ δεν θα απαλλάξει την Ευρώπη από την τρομοκρατία

Hollande declaring war will not rid Europe of terror

Francois Hollande has confirmed that the French government will take a hard stance in response to the attacks which took place in Paris on November 13.

The Socialist president hinted more than once that his retaliation would even surpass in forcefulness that of Nicolas Sarkozy – his right-wing predecessor as president and opponent for the 2017 elections, despite the latter’s reputation for tough measures. French forces are already bombing Syria.

In the aftermath of the attack, the early emotional reaction from the president was justifiable given the terrible circumstances. But in the days that followed, politicians from right to left and much of the mainstream media have abandoned caution and reason. They have sought to outdo each other in offering up the most reactionary, violent and divisive rhetoric.

Continue reading Hollande declaring war will not rid Europe of terror

Ne tombons pas dans le piège de peur et d’exclusion tendu par Daech

Face à l’horreur provoquée par cette nouvelle série d’attaques terroristes en France, il est urgent de ne pas céder à la peur et de ne pas stigmatiser les populations les plus fragiles.

Les attaques perpétrées ce vendredi 13 novembre sont les plus meurtrières qu’ait connues la France depuis 1945. Selon un dernier bilan, ce sont près de 130 personnes qui ont trouvé la mort à la suite de ces attentats commis simultanément à Paris dans six endroits différents. Les autorités policières ont indiqué que les huit terroristes à l’origine de ces attaques seraient décédés – sept en se faisant exploser.

Ce n’est pas comme si la France n’était pas préparée à l’éventualité d’une telle tragédie. Les mesures antiterroristes ont été renforcées jusqu’à leur plus haut niveau depuis l’attaque, en janvier dernier, de Charlie Hebdo par les frères Kouachi et de l’Hyper Casher par Amédy Coulibaly.

Depuis des mois maintenant, les soldats patrouillant en armes dans les rues font partie du quotidien des Parisiens. Mais le plan Vigipirate mis en place par le gouvernement pour assurer la sécurité des Français n’aura pas suffi à déjouer ce qui apparaît comme l’attaque la mieux organisée qu’ait jamais menée Daech hors de son territoire. Toute la lumière doit encore être faite, mais l’État islamique a déjà revendiqué cette nouvelle vague d’attaques. François Hollande, accusant directement l’organisation terroriste, a affirmé qu’il voyait dans cette série d’attentats « un acte de guerre ». L’état d’urgence a été instauré dans le pays, des mesures radicales comme le rétablissement des contrôles aux frontières ont été prises, écoles et universités ont été fermées.

Continue reading Ne tombons pas dans le piège de peur et d’exclusion tendu par Daech

É essencial lutar contra a paranoia (O Globo)

Os ataques em Paris são os mais mortais em solo francês desde 1945. E não que a França não estivesse preparada. Medidas antiterroristas estavam no nível mais alto desde janeiro, após o ataque ao “Charlie Hebdo”. Soldados armados tornaram-se parte de Paris. No entanto, não foram suficientes para evitar o que se acredita ser o ataque mais exitoso do Estado Islâmico (EI) cometido fora da sua área de domínio.

Agora, Hollande declarou estado de emergência: controle nas fronteiras e escolas e universidades fechadas. Mas um clima de medo e paranoia pode ter consequências graves. Medidas emergenciais são necessárias, mas devem continuar emergenciais. Caso tornem-se permanentes, põem a França num caminho extremamente perigoso.

Continue reading É essencial lutar contra a paranoia (O Globo)

Paris terror attacks: France now faces fight against fear and exclusion

The attacks that took place at a series of venues in Paris on November 13 were the deadliest on French soil since 1945. At least 129 people have been killed in six different places. Reports say that nearly 100 are in a critical condition. Police have reported that eight people believed to have carried out the attacks are also dead – seven by blowing themselves up.

It was not as though France had not prepared itself to face such a tragedy. Anti-terrorist measures have been at their highest level in Paris since January, when two brothers attacked the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12.

This was obvious to any bystander over the past few months. Armed soldiers have become part of the Paris experience. Yet the government’s security plan, the plan vigipirate, was not enough to stop what is so far believed to be the most organised and coordinated attack Islamic State has perpetrated outside its territory. Details are still thin on the ground, but IS has claimed responsibility. President François Hollande has blamed the group and made it clear that he sees this as an act of war.

Continue reading Paris terror attacks: France now faces fight against fear and exclusion

The French secular hypocrisy: the extreme right, the Republic and the battle for hegemony

Abstract:

The success of the extreme right in France in the past two decades has not been limited to its electoral rise. A more long-lasting victory has taken place in the ideological field, where the discourse of the extreme right now occupies a prominent place in the mainstream liberal democratic agenda. Increasingly, its ideas are seen in the media and in the platforms of mainstream parties as ‘common sense’ or at least acceptable. The growing acceptance of this ‘common sense’ is the result of very carefully crafted strategies put in place by extreme-right thinkers since the 1980s. For over three decades now, in order to change perceptions and renew extreme right-wing ideology, New Right think tanks such as the French GRECE believed it was necessary to borrow the tactics of the left and, more specifically, the Gramscian concept of hegemony: cultural power must precede political power. With the use of contemporary examples, Mondon’s article demonstrates the continuing impact these ideas have had on the Front national and French politics and society, and how this change originated in the association of populist rhetoric with the neo-racist stigmatization of the Other.

Mondon A. (2015) The French secular hypocrisy: the extreme right, the Republic and the battle for hegemony. Patterns of Prejudice 49: 1-22.

On politics, exclusion and rhetoric