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23rd February 2022

Will France succumb to conservativism and Islamophobia?

A fall to islamophobia and conservatism seems inevitable in France as the majority of presidential candidates boast right-leaning politics and xenophobic attitudes.
Will France succumb to conservativism and Islamophobia?
Emmanuel Macron: U.S National Archives and DVDs

In recent years, many have witnessed how the political arena in France has shifted more and more towards the right. This movement resembles that of many European countries such as Italy (with Lega Nord) or Spain (with Vox), where far-right parties have experienced a resurgence.

President Macron, once seen as a liberal centrist candidate, has shifted further to the right side, in an effort to secure his position in the coming elections of April 2022. This conservative turn has been seen in some of his policies, such as abolishing the wealth tax in 2018, where he implemented a flat tax of 30% on wealth and a tax on real estate. Additionally, his labour reform of 2017, made it easier for companies to hire, and cheaper to fire their staff. The discontent caused by these reforms was felt in late 2018, when the gilet jaune (yellow vests) protests began and continued until the start of the pandemic.

Currently, the polls place Macron as the winner of the 2022 presidential elections, with 25% of the votes in the first round, and around 50% in the second round. This number varies depending on the other candidate, with 57% against Le Pen and 53% against Pécresse.

However, what has characterised this election is the absence of a clear leftist party and the almost exclusivity of a right or far-right candidates running. The second candidate, with the highest intention of vote, is the infamous Marie Le Pen (Rassemblement National) with 16% in the polls. She is followed by two newcomers: Valerie Pécresse (Les Républicains) with 16%, and Éric Zemmour (Reconquête!) with 12%.

An astonishing 71% of votes in these next elections are projected to go towards the right. Only two big parties on the left, La France Insoumise led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Parti Socialiste, led by the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, have a mere 13% intention of the vote in total.

However, this clear shift towards conservativism is not the only worrisome sign coming from the Hexagone. Over the past decade, there has been a rise in a xenophobic movement against the Muslim population. Islamaphobia has spread throughout France quickly over the years, meaning “an intense dislike or fear of Islam”, especially as a political force. It has projected hostility and prejudice towards Muslims.

One of the main voices of this movement has been the above-mentioned Éric Zemmour, a famous TV political commentator, journalist and writer. Zemmour has openly declared his dislike for the Arab and Muslim communities in France. As his record shows, he was fined in 2011 for racial discrimination, and in 2018 for inciting hate against Muslims. In the last week, he was sentenced to pay €10,000 for inciting hatred and racial abuse. Not to mention, he has been acquitted six previous times of similar charges.

Through his YouTube channel, he has been able to share what some of his objectives are if he is elected President. These include: forcing Muslim parents to give their children a French first name (around 22% of new-borns in 2020 were given Arab-Muslim names) and removing all financial helps for the non-French population.

He also endorses returning foreign criminals jailed in France to their original countries, the expulsion of clandestine immigrants and a tighter selection process for students from Africa coming to study in France. On top of these openly racist policies, he also is against same-sex couples accessing assisted reproduction; believing children must have a mother and a father.

What Zemmour forgets to mention is that the Muslim and Arab population migration to his dear country did not occur because of some evil-Islamist plan to overtake it, but is an aspect of French history. North and West Africa were French colonies for decades. When the time came for the French to leave, they did not give back the resources they had stolen from the African people, nor did they offer compensation for their crimes.

The only hope these people had to support their families was to migrate to the only country in Europe of which they knew the language, and with which they had some connection; la France. The best example of this was the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), a conflict started by the Algerian National Liberation Front in an attempt to conquer freedom for their country.

This complex conflict caused thousands of deaths on both sides, but most importantly it led to mass migrations of Algerians to metropolitan France. By 1965 there were over 500,000 Algerian nationals in France. Currently, the population of North African descent makes up about 10% of the total, and the country hosts the biggest Muslim majority in Europe.

What we can extract from all this, is that there has certainly been a shift towards the right in French politics – conservative parties lead in voters’ intentions, and the left is too weak to create any type of strong support. However, this does not mean that islamophobia is going to become a part of the mainstream political discourse.

The Arab population is too entrenched in French history for it to be rejected with a couple of strong words and actions; the fact is that Muslims did not migrate to France because they had a free choice. Rather, they did so because that was their only true option after the French left.

Maybe what people like Éric Zemmour and Marie Le Pen should start seeing is that their beloved, predominantly white, Western nation died when they set foot in lands that were not theirs, where people had different skin colours and beliefs, and from whom they took everything they could.

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