French Far Right Poised to Exploit Paris Attacks for Political Gain

By Thomas Scotto | (The Conversation)

On the streets of France there is a strong public response to the murders of 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. But we do not yet know the medium to long-term consequences the attack will have on the nation’s public mood.

We conducted a representative survey of the French public in May 2014 though, and its findings suggest that there could be tense times ahead for the French.

The concern that minorities, particularly Muslims, will be scapegoated in France and that there could be a further upsurge in support for the populist far right is very real. The Front National, France’s main right-wing party, had great success in European elections and front woman Marine Le Pen led in the early polling done in the run-up to the 2017 presidential election.

Le Pen is already taking aim at fundamentalist Islam and immigration, suggesting they played a role in the attack. And sadly, this populist appeal is likely to be a fruitful avenue for her and her party. There is a strong reservoir of the French electorate that is both hostile to immigration and Islam.

A representative survey of French foreign policy values and attitudes we conducted shortly before the 2014 European Parliamentary elections revealed that 54% of the French public agreed that “even in its milder forms, Islam is a serious danger to Western civilisation.”

Research conducted on US citizens showed how fears of terrorism not only crystallise negative attitudes towards minorities – such as France’s 2m practicing Muslims – but can also lower general trust, support for democratic norms, satisfaction with the government, and the values often seen to define social democracy.

In France, a core value enshrined in the slogan of the French Republic is Égalité (Equality). At a minimum it represents the ideal that all French citizens are equal before the law and in the eyes of the state. In our analysis of the French data from May 2014, we found that those who feared that they or their friends would fall victim to a terrorist attack were more likely to display animosity towards racial minorities. This, in and of itself, can be taken as an attack on the ideal.

But the challenges posed by the threat of terrorism go deeper – our analyses of the survey data also showed that those living in fear of terrorism were also those who agreed with a general statement that France “has gone too far in pushing equal rights.”

This suggests that a heightened fear of terrorism is not only toxic to majority-minority relations, but it has the potential to undermine a core value espoused by the republic and enshrined in the nation’s 1958 constitution.

On the evening following the attack, French people showed an awe-inspiring level of solidarity. They took to the streets in protest over the affront to freedom of expression and held signs saying “Je suis Charlie”. Powerful cartoons have been posted and shared on social media, defiantly asserting a desire to see the value of free speech upheld, even if that means allowing satirical and potentially offensive material to circulate.

Giving in to the fear of terrorism or listening to politicians who seek to play on these fears will harm the already strained relationship the French state has with its immigrant and Muslim population. It will also chip away at the core values that the French proudly claim to own.

Thomas Scotto is Professor of Government at University of Essex

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: “Le Pen: We must respond to war declared by Islamic fundamentalism”

9 Responses

  1. This is causing some excitement on Twitter.

    Shadi Hamid
    ‏@shadihamid
    This Rupert Murdoch tweet is one of the most remarkable things I’ve seen from a public figure on #Paris attacks.

    Rupert Murdoch ‏@rupertmurdoch 4h4 hours ago
    Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.

  2. Professor,

    The far-right has a tendency to self-destruct and 2017 is rather far away. We can note what happened in the case of Golden Dawn (in Greece).

    We should point out that Anders Brevik has murdered more people than Islamist extremists in France over the last 2 decades.

    “I am a Norwegian Labour Party member”

  3. Scott Smith

    I don’t know how it is in France Mr. Howard, but I’ve been searching for any examples of this mythical ‘far left’ here in the united states, and have come to the conclusion that they just don’t exist.

  4. How about the Christian fundamentalists? After all, a bunch of folks from the various militia movements drove to the Bundy Ranch and took up arms against the federal government… do we hold Christianity as a whole responsible for the fundamentalists’ crimes unless and until they destroy their growing crusaderist cancer?

  5. How do we teach each other to understand that scapegoating is illogical and only creates more of the violence that we want to stop?

    Rupert Murdoch’s tweet is classic scapegoating: “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.”

    I bet Murdoch would NOT support the following statements:

    “Maybe most Christians are peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing fundamentalist cancer, they must be held responsible for the murder of abortion provide, Dr. George Tiller.”

    OR

    “Maybe most men are peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy testosterone-fueled male aggression, they must be held responsible for all rapes.”

    Isn’t it obvious that Murdoch’s statement is as ridiculous as the above two statements?

    If the far right in France pushes for scapegoating laws, I hope that the French people refuse to fall for such illogical thinking.

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