Europe, France and multiculturalism

“Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!” – unless, of course you’re arab

After months of scandals, muckraking and smear campaigning, the first round was played. Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande won the first round of the French presidential election, and is now in pole position to beat Nicolas Sarkozy in the second round scheduled for May 6th. No surprises there. Hollande has been leading the polls since the very start trailed by a-never-so-near Sarkozy. The real surprise of the night was undoubtedly the shockingly strong support for Marine Le Pen, candidate of the far-right National Front, with the most significant result ever attained by a far-right extremist party in France since the Second World War with an alarming 18% of the vote. With an unprecedented high of 80 % of citizens taking part in the vote, it is clear that this vote merely reflects the important presence of rising nationalism and extremism in the political landscape of Europe. To top that, Germany recently approved the recirculation of the infamous book, Mein Kampf by Hitler, and Norway is presently witnessing the prosecution of Anders Breivik, a man responsible for the murder of 77 people last year with blatant racist intentions. Change is on the horizon.

These events only underline the extensive trepidation that the old continent is progressively opening to far-right viewpoints. So let’s center back to France. Having spread extremist thoughts into French culture, Marine Le Pen can thank Sarkozy for preparing her the ground for these elections. When Sarkozy was elected from the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), a centre-rightpolitical party, he was seen as the perfect representation of the French population; son of Hungarian immigrants, went through public education and had no political family-fed background. Yet he controversially made the fight against immigration the foundation of his political plan. It all begun with the formation of a “ministry of immigration, integration and national identity”. At this point, immigration was already presented as an important “issue” for France and it’s long-term development. Subsequently a succession of anti-immigration laws were passed. A good example of these laws would be the decree signed by Sarkozy’s minister of interior, Claude Guéant, in 2011 where it became increasingly difficult for foreign students who had graduated from a French university to obtain a work permit. The justification given was that employers should hire French citizens before foreign ones. By foreign ones, he also means the ‘foreign’ French-born citizens. Oxymoronic, isn’t it?

I think that at this point it is important to single out the famous motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”(Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) upon which the French culture was built. Doesn’t it sound funny to you that the worldwide proclaimed and always-so-proud defenders of a just and equitable political power reflected in their motto ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ is actually just a huge lie? When I say funny, I am, of course, being utterly sarcastic. The only ‘funny’ element of this situation I can think of, is probably Sarkozy’s small stature as a president; literally.  Well maybe it’s time to change the outdated motto from the French revolution to something more updated. Maybe something like ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – Only of course, if you are white’.

So has multiculturalism failed in France and Europe? Merkel thinks so, David Cameron agrees. In fact, it is self-evident. Throughout Europe, there is a disconcerting resurgence of organized far-right extremist groups backed by an increase in proliferation via the internet of hate speeches, stereotypes and xenophobia diffusing also into the political sphere. The perfect example of this is the controversial claim by the French minister of the interior, Brice Hortefeux, during a political meeting. While talking about the Arab origins of one of the participants, the minister stated, in front of the cameras to a shell-shocked audience and I quote: “He doesn’t correspond to the prototype. We always need one [Arab]. When there is only one of them it’s alright. But it becomes a problem when there are too many of them.”

Following such a public-humiliating statement, you would probably expect him to withdraw from the job or even better, get sacked like any other minister would have in any other country- at least in Europe. Well turns out Brice Hortefeux is a very close friend of the president and also happens to be godfather to one of his [Sarkozy] sons. I think you see already where I am going with this, well story cut short, he stayed.

Islamophobia, segregation and radicalization. Three words that could shape the future of France should the trend continue rising. The truth is undeniable. France is slowly dividing itself. Extremism is taking over public opinions, hate and fear for Muslim immigrants is rising. Approximately 64 per cent of Nicolas Sarkozy’s voters want a political alliance between their candidate and the far-right party. The proposals of the far right include the restoration of the death penalty, a withdrawal from the euro, leaving the common defense policy and the revocation of Schengen agreements. One step closer to chauvinism and another step closer to white supremacy.

Yet hope remains. A hope that could be either confirmed, or not, by the French presidential elections. Just like the 40,000 Norwegians who gathered in protest to Breivik “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”.

Nasser Karmali

France/Portugal

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