In the aftermath of Sept 11, 2001, extreme nationalism rose in France just like in the rest of Europe.
Followed by the 2008 economic crisis that caused unemployment and a fall in the level of prosperity, social fears triggered by refugees fleeing from the war zones also added to the increase in protectionist tendencies. Thus, France became suitable grounds for extremist tendencies, such as xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiments and anti-Semitism.
The United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination announced that there has been a remarkable increase in racism and xenophobia in France. According to data provided by human rights organisation CCIF, racist/discriminatory attacks against Muslims in France during the first nine months last year have increased three times compared with 2014 (110 versus 330).
It is not hard to guess that these attacks will accelerate after the Nov 13 terror attacks.
The rise of racism and Islamophobia is seen in all sections of society. Recently, former French labour minister Nadine Morano, on France 2 TV channel, stated that: “France is a Christian country belonging to people of white ethnicity”.
Last May, the mayor of Venelle, Robert Chardon, asked for “the prohibition of Islam” on his Facebook account, while the National Front (FN) Party’s second top figure, Florian Philippot, said that he “would fight to prevent Islam in France”.
Racial discrimination can also be seen in official practices for some time now.
For example, in 2008, 3,000 migrants were deported in violation of international laws. In 2010, 300 gypsy camps were destroyed and 3,000 gypsies were deported. Nicolas Sarkozy, president at the time (who is also a member of an immigrant family) blamed migrants — gypsies, in particular — for France’s woes with a very harsh tone.
The fact is that the extreme right FN came first during the European Parliament elections in 2014 with 25.24 percentage of votes.
FN managed to get 28 per cent of the all the votes in the first round of the regional elections last month and came first in sixth out of the 13 regions. That was definitely an important achievement. However, it failed in all the regions in the second round, as other parties formed various alliances.
Although the international media seems to be relieved with this result, it just proves that national elections are interpreted incorrectly. The fact is FN never hoped to be successful in the second round as there were no allies. Yet it doesn’t change the fact that FN is still supported by a third of the people in France.
All the polls in relation to the presidential elections, to be held in April next year, reveal that FN leader Marine Le Pen’s votes for the first round will likely be over 30 per cent, and may go up to 40 per cent in the second round.
More importantly, 54 per cent of the French regard FN as a “patriotic party” championing national values, instead of an extreme right-wing party. The fact that 54 per cent of the people consider the FN “an ordinary party” indicates that votes may incline towards it, according to the circumstances of the time.
One can’t help but get a sense of déjà vu in the face of all these facts. In a historical context, an economic crisis, widespread societal paranoia and the rise of the extreme right resulted in the rise of Fascism in Italy, and Nazism in Germany, in the not so distant past. In order to objectify this with facts and figures, let’s take a walk down memory lane.
With the economic crisis of 1929, when unemployment had reached 30 per cent in Germany, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party obtained 33 per cent of the votes in the 1932 elections and 44 per cent of the votes in the 1933 elections, making the Nazis the biggest party in the Reichstag.
The economy in Italy had deteriorated dramatically during World War 1 and with the general strike crisis in 1920, Benito Mussolini decided to stage the “March on Rome” in 1922. After his impromptu coup d’etat and establishing himself as Italy’s leader (Il Duce), he went on to win 61 per cent of the votes in the 1924 elections. Once the other political parties were banned in 1928, Mussolini racked up 98 per cent of the votes in 1929 and 99 per cent of the votes in 1934, and thus, Fascism came to Italy.
Now, we are seeing the same developments step-by-step in France. This is not entirely unlikely or alarmist; the working poor and middle-class, who propelled Hitler and Mussolini into power, are becoming a source of votes for the FN in France. According to figures given by Le Pen, 600 people are joining the FN’s ranks every day.
Let’s assume for a second that the extreme right came to power in France. What will happen then?
An ideology based on xenophobia, an anti-immigrant narrative, Islamophobia and an authoritarian approach being in charge in France will, before everything else, mean the end of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity), the slogan that outlines the values of their republic.
It is not difficult to imagine how the hostility towards the seven million Muslims and immigrants, who are close to 30 per cent of the population, together with the refugees, could hurt France.
A quasi-fascist France would also most likely cut the ties of the country with the rest of Europe. It is a known fact that countries that wish to become a member of the European Union (EU) must agree to respect minority rights and are required to act in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the Copenhagen criteria.
Yet, it is quite clear that a country marginalising its citizens and discriminating against its allies will not find a place within the EU, which is built on the values described in the aforementioned documents.
A far-right France also means France breaking away from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). Indeed, the FN has announced this on their official website. France will certainly not be safer if they break off from Nato. It is evident that such a step will be beneficial neither for this country nor for world peace.
The French are no strangers to Fascism. During World War 2, Fascism killed 530,000 French citizens, divided the country into two and razed cities and villages to the ground.
For this reason, Article I of the French Constitution states “France… ensures the equality of all its citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs” and has organised all types of discrimination as a crime (the French Penal Code, article 225).
It would not be rational for the French people to forget all of this, and suddenly go on to embrace a far-right ideology like Fascism. It is a regrettable sociological reality that citizens turn to extremism in countries when issues remain unsolved and turn into crises.
The reactions French people give to the Nov 13 attacks take their course compatible with this thesis. But I believe that the French are equipped with good common sense, which will prevent them from making the same mistake twice. On behalf of world peace, and for the sake of the French people, I hope history will not repeat itself.
Adnan Oktar's piece in New Straits Times & MBC Times & Morocco World News: