The vote bodes a grim future, not only for Muslims and minorities but also for French society as a whole.
”To exist is to exist politically,” Algerian sociologist Abdelmalek Sayad once wrote. There are reasons to question whether President Emmanuel Macron ever read Sayad’s writings because his past five years in power have been about keeping French Muslims from being fully-fledged citizens.
For Muslims, the election of Emmanuel Macron was supposed to provide relief after five years of Francois Hollande. However, like his predecessor, he posed as the providential man protecting the nation against the enemy within — French Muslims. So much so that his Minister of Interior accused Marine Le Pen of being “too soft, not on Islamism but on Islam.”
While passing reforms to dismantle the welfare state and protections for millions of workers, Emmanuel Macron claimed — and continues to claim — that he has been waging a battle against so-called “political/radical Islam.”
With just days before the 2022 presidential election, the political offerings will likely, once again, push many to abstain. Extreme far-right candidate Eric Zemmour broke into the election with an unapologetically anti-Muslim platform. His chances of making it to the second round are slim, but his nine percent in the polls does confirm that Marine Le Pen, polling at 22 percent, is not only capable of reaching the second round but could also win the presidency.
For fear of seeing Macron reelected or Le Pen replacing him, grassroots organisers have managed to overcome their differences to work together in a campaign for left-wing candidate Jean Luc Melenchon, despite his years of stoking anti-Muslim racism. The rationale is that he is the “lesser evil” and that voting for him is the only way to defeat the far-right.
But one can only question how come the same organisers and activists have been unable to work together as a collective for the past five years in order to prevent this long-forecasted far-right blackmailing. They could not work together for themselves, but they managed to do so for the white man who had a role in the racism they had supposedly been fighting against.
It is understandable that many have so far refused this electoral blackmailing. Twenty years ago, people voted in droves for Jacques Chirac in the 2002 elections to block the historic far-right leader Jean Marie Le Pen during the second round. But to what end? Jacques Chirac passed the law against the Muslim headscarf in public schools and set the stage for the next twenty years of legal Islamophobia. Again in 2017, people rushed to vote for Macron to block Marine Le Pen, with the results we see in front of us.
Emmanuel Macron has waged a war on Muslims during the past five years, culminating in the “anti-separatism law” passed in August 2021 after a year-long tsunami of anti-Muslim racism within the halls of parliament and media. Today the French government can shut down any Muslim organisation — and has been doing so — at will.
The future of French Muslims will be grim if things persist as they are. Their capacity to organise and act as a community has so far been a total failure, as illustrated by the fact that Macron faced little to no resistance when pushing for his “anti separatism” law.
As citizens, French Muslims belong on the side of dissent and protest in times of profound inequality and injustice. If France can pride itself on its Revolution, countless labour movements, and the bitter fights of the dominated against the dominant, as taught in history books, why should French Muslims be any different?
If mosques have historically either remained silent or actively collaborated with the government cracking down on Muslim communities, maybe it is time for them to seek accountability from their representatives and replace them if needs be.
Macron himself voiced this concern during his speech on “separatism” and by announcing that the French state should intervene in charity elections if incumbents are removed. Thus, maybe it is time for many to redefine what faith means and what values French Muslim identity is built around. Submission to whomever is in power? Conformism with the dominant ideology or liberation? Dogmatism or critical thinking?
But this lack of action and mobilisation against this piece of legislation that quite literally violates freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of religion goes beyond Muslims to French society as a whole.
Broader French society supported the 2015-2017 state of emergency, and even it becoming permanent. Less than five years later, the majority non-Muslim population of France felt unconcerned about the anti-separatism law meant to crack down on Muslims.
Yet the very measures that caused little concern while the government targeted Blacks, Arabs, Muslims and inhabitants of the Banlieues are now being used against white organisations, organisers, and potentially any dissenting voice.
This, in turn, raises fundamental questions not only for French Muslims but for all French people. Is democracy only about voting for representatives every five years? And what does it even mean to vote, if it serves to legitimise a system that does not offer choices but instead pushes the masses to "choose" the perceived lesser evil at that moment?
Time will tell whether the far-right’s “ideological quasi total victory” becomes fact, as claimed by Marine Le Pen, or if we are witnessing the convulsions of a dying order that has become so convinced of its near demise that it needs to secure its grip on power through ever more repressive laws, made acceptable by scapegoating minorities.
Macron has been branded “the president of the rich” for his neoliberal policies and complete disdain for the working class. Yet, if he managed to work for the most comfortable layers of French society, he also did his best to please its most reactionary.
Hence, if he spent the past five years working for the few, he needed to divide the many. The latter will only have themselves to blame if they keep falling for the same farce. Islamophobia made no one richer; it only hijacked the much-needed debate over the legitimacy of a man who was elected while the majority abstained, and who is trying to do it again now. Fool me once…
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