All posts by Aurelien Mondon

Normalized Hate (with Aaron Winter)

First published in Jacobin

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick and Prime Minister Theresa May were quick to call Darren Osborne’s June 19 attack in London an act of terrorism. Osborne allegedly shouted “I’m going to kill all Muslims” as he drove a van into the crowd leaving the Muslim Welfare Centre, killing Makram Ali and injuring ten others. May explained that the attack was “declared a terrorist incident within eight minutes” of the first emergency call, and Dick commented that “this was quite clearly an attack on Muslims.”

Their statements came as a relief to some. For years, people have challenged the clear double standard applied to the word terrorism. While the media and officials quickly apply it to attacks perpetrated by those identified with or identifying as Muslims, restraint usually prevails in the wake of other violent crimes, particularly those with white perpetrators.

Moreover, politicians and the media often depict Muslim extremists as representatives of the Muslim community, which subjects Muslims to collective suspicion and requires them to apologize for crimes with which they had nothing to do. On the other hand, white perpetrators — including those who commit violence in the name of a race or nation — receive a wait-and-see approach, often based on the assessment of their individual psychological state and social status. As a result, they’re often depicted as mentally unstable or socially inept loners, and therefore not representative of their communities.

In Osborne’s case, however, there was a clear divide between government and media rhetoric. The police and prime minister identified him as a terrorist, but the Times described him as a “jobless ‘lone wolf’” with “mental health problems,” the Guardian called him “aggressive” and “strange,” and the Telegraph reported that he had “tried to kill himself and asked to be sectioned.”

 

As is common in the British media landscape, the Daily Mail went a step further. It depoliticized Osborne’s attack and even found a way to blame Islamist extremism. Its June 19 headline read:

White van driver injures at least 10 people after ploughing into crowd outside London’s Finsbury Park mosque where hate cleric Abu Hamza once preached as Muslims finish their evening prayers.

The Daily Mail did not identify Osborne with his horrific act, but with his vehicle. Meanwhile, it linked the victims to the location’s history, not to the fact Osborne targeted them. The article described Osborne as a “clean-shaven white man,” pointedly differentiating him from a racialized Muslim with a beard.

The newspaper has since apologized, not for associating the victims with terrorism but because it got its facts wrong: the attack occurred outside the Muslim Welfare Centre, not Finsbury Park Mosque, which had already addressed the issue of extremism. The Daily Mail presented its headline as an error, not a reflection of its ideology.

Unfortunately, the reaction to the Finsbury attack fits into a larger media and political landscape that not only excuses far-right violence but also normalize the rhetoric that fuels it. If we want to address the twin issues of terrorism and extremism, we must address the role that far-right politics play.

Continue reading Normalized Hate (with Aaron Winter)

The French election shows the democratic limits of the country’s presidential system

The French election shows the democratic limits of the country’s presidential system

Aurelien Mondon, University of Bath

After the final debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the race for the French presidency is nearing its end point on May 7. But the presidential election has demonstrated once again that France’s electoral system is less about democracy, and more about restraining it.

The late stages of the first round campaign were incredibly open and led to real debates between different visions for the future of France. This seemed to enthuse French voters. While polls suggested that abstention could reach a record 30%, the turnout in the first round of voting on April 23 was in fact close to 78%, similar to the 2012 election.

The results in the first round also pointed to sharp ideological divisions in France, with four candidates finishing with more or less 20% of the vote. From the radical left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to the hard right conservative François Fillon, from centrist newcomer Emmanuel Macron to far right Marine Le Pen.

Continue reading The French election shows the democratic limits of the country’s presidential system

France has not escaped Marine Le Pen just yet

First published on CNN

The results from the first round of the French Presidential election are in, and they have delivered a pretty damning verdict for France’s mainstream political parties.

On the center left — after 97% of the votes have been counted — the Socialist Party’s showing of 6.35% is hardly a surprise after the party’s dismal record in power over the past five years under François Hollande. This was made worse by the many defections the party suffered during the campaign. While few imagined that the public’s affection for the party would fall that low, no one was expecting that its candidate, Benoit Hamon, would reach the second round.
For the Republican Party, the opposite was true only a year ago. It seemed that the presidential election would be a breeze as they expected their candidate to face Hollande, the most unpopular president of the Fifth Republic.

Continue reading France has not escaped Marine Le Pen just yet

The Mélenchon Factor

First published on Jacobin

It seems that every week of the French presidential elections has new surprises. A year ago, it was easy to make predictions, but, just days before the first-round vote, the campaign remains wide open.

Presidential elections in France always offer voters a wide range of options — from the far left to the far right. Nor is it rare for small candidates to upset the hierarchy.

The most famous instance came in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far-right National Front (FN) reached the second round. When Le Pen’s victorious face appeared on the screens around 8 PM, panic took hold. Fascism was standing at the gates of power, or so it seemed. This mainstream narrative ignored the fact that Le Pen’s popularity had been stagnating since 1988, when he first reached around 4.5 million votes.

What should have dominated the news cycle — and, in fact, what accounted for Le Pen’s second-round appearance — was the fact that the three main parties’ votes had totally collapsed that year. Their combined score almost equalled that of an unprecedented level of abstention.

The media also focused on the Socialist Party’s (PS) candidate Lionel Jospin, blaming his defeat on the fragmented left vote. While socialist and nationalist Jean-Pierre Chevènement took a chunk of Jospin’s vote, the more radical left — represented by the Communist Party’s Robert Hue and, more surprisingly, the two Trotskyist candidates, Olivier Besancenot of the Revolutionary Communist League (now New Anticapitalist Party or NPA) and Arlette Laguillier of the Workers’ Struggle (LO) — all won impressive results that cut into Jospin’s share.

Indeed, the situation in 2002 closely resembles today’s election, as the results expressed clear exasperation with the status quo. After years of collaboration, during which conservative president Jacques Chirac nominated Socialist Jospin as prime minister after losing the 1997 legislative election, the differences between the center-left and center-right had become almost impossible to discern.

Yet despite these similarities, the surprising turns in the 2002 election don’t fully live up to the current campaign. French voters are more dissatisfied today, partly due to the ongoing economic crisis and increasing austerity measures.  While everyone expects a surprise this year, it is its nature that remains uncertain.

Continue reading The Mélenchon Factor

The Resurgence of Mainstream Racism and the Need for Nuance in Democratic Turmoil

First published on the IPR’s website

Misdiagnosing the Democratic Crisis 

With the French elections just around the corner, and with current polling suggesting the Front National is set to become a leading party in France, the stakes have never seemed so high. While the Front National is used to making headlines come election time, its strong position this year seems somewhat reinforced by the electoral events which shook the UK and US last year. Indeed, the Brexit vote and Trump’s election have sent a strong signal that nationalist and even racist politics are now part of the mainstream, and no longer an insurmountable handicap in electoral jousts. In fact, an uneasy sense of resignation seems to have enthralled the mainstream elite discourse: the people have turned reactionary and all that can be done is limit the damage.

Yet only a year ago, few would have guessed the way events would unfurl. Had they had to guess, most commentators, pundits and experts would have forecast that the UK would have voted to remain in the European Union and Hillary Clinton would have defeated Donald Trump. At that stage, predicting the results of the French presidential election seemed fairly straightforward: Hollande’s dismal record and approval rating would make it impossible for him – or any other likely socialist contender, such as Manuel Valls – to appeal to enough of their disenchanted base to reach the second round. The Parti Socialiste’s failure would clear the path for Marine Le Pen to do to the centre left what her father did to Lionel Jospin in 2002, and reach the second round. She would eventually lose to Alain Juppé, whose more consensual approach would serve as a shield against the far right – as Jacques Chirac had in the past. All in all, it would be business as usual. Bremain, Clinton and the French Républicains would triumph over the rise of far right racist politics, and life would go on for another political term, allowing the far right to polish its discourse and increasingly normalise its ideas as political distrust and disillusionment remain unaddressed.

Continue reading The Resurgence of Mainstream Racism and the Need for Nuance in Democratic Turmoil

The rise of the far right: a symptom of a deeper crisis

This paper was first published on the website of Das Progressive Zentrum and presented at this event.

Populist ‘earthquakes’ appear to have become the norm in western democracies. Since the French Front National, UKIP and the Dansk Folkeparti (DF) won the 2014 European elections in their countries, there has been a growing sentiment amongst the elite that the rise of the populist right is irresistible. This appears to have been confirmed by the ‘shock’ of Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. More recently, Norbert Hofer managed to appeal to 47% of the vote in the second round of the Austrian presidential election, while the rejection of a referendum in Italy was touted as a victory for the populist Five Star Movement. However, this article, based on more extensive research (Glynos and Mondon 2016, Mondon 2015, 2017), argues that the focus on right-wing populism only uncovers part of the deeper crisis currently faced by western democracies, and could prove counterproductive to those hoping to revive more progressive sentiments within the electorate and the population.

Continue reading The rise of the far right: a symptom of a deeper crisis

Is Marine Le Pen Really the Candidate to Beat in the French Election?

First article was first published in Newsweek


With less than five months to go before the first round of the presidential elections in France, and days after François Fillon was elected to stand as the mainstream right candidate, the focus of much of the media remains anchored on Marine Le Pen. According to most polls, and against whichever candidate, the leader of the far right party seems poised to reach the second round of the election. The possibility of another 21 April 2002 seems to be on everyone’s mind.

Fifteen years ago, Le Pen’s father created an “earthquake” in French politics by beating the center left candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round of the presidential election, before losing in the second round to Jacques Chirac, who received more than 82 percent of the vote. What became known as the “Republican front” saw all parties but one on the extreme left asking their electorate to vote for Chirac in the second round. Times have changed, and the process of modernization undertaken by the National Front (NF), coupled with the normalization of its politics under the Sarkozy presidency in particular, have made the efficacy and even possibility of a “Republican front” much more uncertain.

Continue reading Is Marine Le Pen Really the Candidate to Beat in the French Election?

France is paying the price for normalizing Islamophobia

This article is a longer version of that first published on 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.

Continue reading France is paying the price for normalizing Islamophobia

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)