Tuesday, November 08, 2005

France is under threat from reactionary far-right opportunists – amongst other problems

On the sidelines of the turmoil that France is currently engulfed in, a despicable attempt at making political capital is going on. Yesterday evening, two MPs from the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), the majority centre-right party of which Nicolas Sarkozy is the leader, tabled the French legal equivalent of a white paper. Doing this is always a great opportunity for political immortality as a law that is passed successfully bears the name of the MP who first suggested it, but that’s just run-of-the-mill political vanity. The ideas put forward by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and Georges Fenech are a pretty spectacular brand of irresponsible political posturing.

Dupont-Aignan and Fenech want a tightening of existing anti-rioting legislation. Specifically, as reported in Le Monde, he suggests that “from now on, the simple act of not spontaneously leaving a gathering susceptible of causing a breach of the peace from the first instruction to disperse should constitute an offence”. In addition, they propose want to “authorise the police top use their weapons when their physical persons or those of people” and places under their protection “are endangered”, but also “when they have no available alternatives to stop or prevent the flight of individuals who refuse to obey a reiterated order to stop”.

The first part of this is quite simply the denial of freedom of assembly, guaranteed by article 12 of European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights. Well, not the entire denial of course. They wouldn’t dream of that. It’s just subject to the police being happy with the crowd’s presence, and being satisfied that they don’t want to cause any trouble, so in other words it would be a crime not to go home if the police suspect that your intentions are objectionable. It’s denial of the right to protest. The second part is even more fundamentally repellent: in the event that people don’t go home when asked to, or don’t submit to arrest once the police have decided that they should, the police can shoot them if they see fit.

What in the Republic’s name are these two thinking of? It is patently obvious that the current situation on the streets has nothing at all to do with inadequate legislation, and it certainly hasn’t come about because of an insufficient level of state-sanctioned violence! These are not only revolting suggestions, they are deeply irresponsible. If it wasn’t already bad enough to have Sarkozy fanning the flames with his inflammatory language, his colleagues think that what France really needs now is for a truck full of kerosene to crash into the conflagration.

Who exactly are Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and Georges Fenech anyway? A little research reveals them to be unremarkable reactionary right-wingers, with far-right leanings and delusions of grandeur. Undistinguished versions of Sarkozy if you will, but without the brains. Dupont-Aignan is the founder of “Debout la République” (“Republic, stand up”), a sovereignist association within the ruling UMP. Most of its members were also part of the electoral list lead by Charles Pasqua and Philippe de Villiers for the 1999 European elections. De Villiers is essentially the upper class, traditionalist Catholic version of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who needs no introduction. Suffice to say that he’s pretty damned right wing in a really nasty way, which fits in quite neatly with Dupont-Aignan’s ideas. Dupont-Aignan has twice stood for the UMP party leadership, in 2002 and 2004, soundly beaten by Sarkozy in the latest election. He is also a candidate for the 2007 presidential elections. To use my tried and tested Iznogoud metaphor, he wants to be Caliph instead of the Caliph, except that he’s only the Grand Vizier’s recalcitrant lackey. As for Georges Fenech, he is amongst other claims to fame the author of a report entitled “Placement under mobile electronic surveillance”. Amusingly, this was sent to Dominique de Villepin. The cover letter contains the sentence ”I have decided to entrust you with a mission of reflection on the subject of mobile electronic surveillance”. I’m sure that Dominique felt honoured that the eminent author of ”Tolérance Zéro” should have felt that he had the intellectual calibre to engage with the topic. I think that these facts give a good idea of these men’s political leanings. They’re Far-right Lite. Crypto-Fascists for ordinary decent folk. And of course frustrated, narcissistic fabulists.

State-sanctioned violence against crowds, ignoring what they have to say, denying them any real voice through legitimate channels is what has lead to the appalling events of the past twelve days. Sarkozy’s brutal rhetoric and police brutality against a section of society that feels – and is – victimised by the police turned another suburban riot into an insurrection. Because let’s be clear about this: twelve days of rioting across the entire country is an insurrection. That’s what we’re talking about here. In one sense at least, the young second generation immigrants have perfectly absorbed French Republican values. Every single significant social and political shake-up in France since 1789 has been the result of the disaffected, the poor, the powerless taking to the streets and waking up successive sclerosed governments through violence. In 1789, it was the starving Third Estate. In 1830, Louis XVIIIth’s attempted return to the Ancien Régime brought about another popular uprising. Napoléon III’s self-indulgent warmongering and subsequent abandonment of Paris to Prussian troops lead about the Paris Commune, ending in a massacre of the insurgents and ultimately the beginning of the 3rd Republic. Repeated rioting and fighting in the streets between far-right leagues, trade unions and left-wing organisations brought to power the Front Populaire and the beginnings of the welfare state. The stifling social conservatism of the political establishment brought the young to the street in 1968, demanding emancipation. Like all of these events, the current insurrection is the result of a social and economic cauldron boiling over after simmering for many years as the political establishment and a large section of French society ignored it.

It is a sad truth that meaningful change in France always appears to be catalysed by violence. Let’s hope that De Villepin and Chirac resist the temptation to fight fire with fire and to cave in to the more unsavoury current of their party.

”_ Mais, c’est une révolte?
_ Non Sire, c’est une révolution!”

The Duke of Liancourt to Louis XVIth following the storming of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789

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