New Right: Where Cross and Crescent Flirt in France May a Tea Party Brew?
Following the electorate’s quenelle or “monumental rout” of the ruling Socialists in the first round of nationwide municipal elections on March 23, other forces playing a long game on the right, seek to help overturn the country’s increasingly discredited progressive elite.
Almost two years into President François Hollande’s now extraordinarily unpopular mandate, a local “none-of-the-above” grassroots movement, akin to but in many ways different from an American-style Tea Party, is coalescing around a central idea: to bury forever what it sees as a decaying leftist grip on France. This is manifested, in its view, by the now long-in-the-tooth nostalgic rump of soixante-huitards.
However there is a dark side to this rejection of the status quo.
As it grows — street-demo by street-demo — the impressive “Manif pour tous“-led grassroots New Right, nurtured by unyielding protest against same-sex marriage and the white-anting of traditional family values, is finding a sympathetic audience among disparate groups.
The “terrifying teahadists” – as one American commentator has described them – appear at first sight to be building an alliance around “Manif pour tous” that includes among others French Catholic integristes and Islamists.
The problem is both of the latter – or the Twin I’s as they have been called — not only contest same sex marriage, gender theory, and destruction of the family — but both are also anti-Semitic.
For example read more on the Muslim leader of the campaign against gender theory in this recent French News Online report here.
This is not to classify Manif pour tous as anti-Semitic, rather it is a parenthetical note suggesting that as the Manif pour tous convoy gathers momentum across France, the organisers may not regard all those that clamber aboard the buses as the most desirable of passengers. Indeed numerous other commentators have noted (and the image above helps confirm) the Muslim vote in France is far from monolithic. Stratagems however, like noblesse, oblige.
For some the romantic absolutism of the modern French Left is summed up by the term soixante-huitards, shorthand used by many on the Right for all that is seen as corrosive of French tradition. Among these is former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy who, on taking office in May 2007, promised to “liquidate” the legacy of ‘68, which he blamed for the decline of old-fashioned patriotism and the root of most of the country’s failings.
Jean-Yves Camus, a political analyst at Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques (IRIS) and an expert on groupings to the right of the political spectrum suggests a counter revolution is emerging on the right notably among the younger generation. “We are hearing the young say things like: well I was raised by a family with liberal values. But I reject these, I think they got it wrong. I prefer to be conservative, to respect the family and religious values. This then is a section of a new generation rebelling against soixante-huitards”. They, says Camus, respect authority, “and want to keep France’s social welfare state for the French and exclude foreigners. They have a national pride that they believe their parent’s generation lacks”.
Indeed as one commentator noted: “There are some in the political and media class, with ideological roots tied to the soixante-huitards, who methodically worked throughout half a century to weaken the family as the basis of French society”.
(The soixante-huitards or sixty-eighters were supporters of the May 1968 student and worker uprising in Paris. This upheaval was credited by some as ushering-in France’s sexual revolution and nearly bringing down Charles de Gaulle’s Vth Republic).
By happenstance or otherwise the grassroots explosion of Manif pour tous also coincides with growing concerns over a perceived rise in anti-Semitic manifestations in France – much of it attributed to Islamist ideologues.
The last half-century has seen the surge of another type of anti-Semitism, or, more precisely, another anti-Judaism less underground and more uninhibited, because it avoids the inherited guilt of the Holocaust. It comes from the Arab Muslim world and has its origins in the existence of Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the scapegoating of Jews as the cause of all the problems in the Arab world – (Eric Leser former senior correspondent and editor at Le Monde and a founder of Slate.fr).
The concerns were brought sharply into focus earlier this year when a huge row broke over Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, and his quenelle — an affair Interior Minister Manuel Valls described at the time as “overt anti-Semitism” which he promised to stamp on.
The ‘subversion’ the quenelle represents was summed up in this New Republic piece: “(the gesture) spoke directly to a French public for which the quenelle used by Dieudonné and his supporters is a gesture of contempt for and defiance of what they see as ‘official France,’ mainly controlled by a Jewish elite whose only mission is to preserve Jewish interests … unsurprisingly, a large part of Dieudonné’s audience is male and comes from the banlieue of Paris, the poor and run-down suburbs surrounding the city which have a predominantly immigrant population.”- (see this story for a full explanation of the issues involved in the bizarre quenelle phenomenon).
The alarm over anti Semitism deepened during the run-up to Sunday’s election where Yvan Benedetti and Alexander Gabriac – two men according to Rue89 earlier excluded from Front National lists, the former being described as an “anti-Semite” and the latter for making a Nazi salute – obtained 11.49% of votes in the first round in Venissieux (Rhône).
Their campaign poster slogan was “Glissez une quenelle dans l’urne” or stick a quenelle in the ballot box. The Benedetti/Gabriac list came fourth in the race, and according to their website thus assured them of a place on the voting paper for the second and final round on March 30. Vénissieux, population 60 159, lies in the southern commuter belt around Socialist-run Lyon and since 1981 has been the scene of periodic outbreaks of violence involving immigrants, many of whom are Muslims.
The driving force behind groups coalescing into the increasingly influential popular opposition movement opposing Leftist dominance in France, is the “Manif pour tous” or Demos for all. It runs a very slick web-based campaign with a site translated into five languages. For the municipals it launched a highly successful pledge — see here — urging candidates standing for local councils to endorse its charter and commit to repealing the gay marriage law. (In larger towns many Mayors also hold seats in the French parliament or its upper house, the Senate, although this is set to change).
The communications expert Stéphane Pocrain, an occasional speechwriter for the EELV or Greens Cabinet Minister Cécile Duflot, told L’Express magazine he was “struck by the radical right’s excellent control of digital-era communication tools”. Anders Pettersson writing on the EUCom website noted: “Since religion has less of a public role in France the demonstrators have claimed to be defending the Civil Code, where ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are mentioned, rather than invoking religion. Whereas in the US the Tea Party defended ‘God’s law’, the Manif pour tous has set out to be seen as defenders of the French Republic, against an out-of-control president who is changing the law for his personal interests. Manif pour tous is very active on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, where they organise and plan rallies”.
The movement describes itself as a “spontaneous and diverse grassroots movement” which emerged in October 2012 “demanding the repeal of the same-sex marriage law”.
Clearly influenced by France’s Roman Catholic Church, even though this stays strategically in the background, parts of this mass-rally-based opposition have also teamed up with Muslim groups.
Followers of both appear united over at least one key issue, defence of the family as a basic social unit with one father and one mother for every child. They also object to efforts — officially denied — to introduce the somewhat passé gender theory teachings developed in the 80s by US West Coast radical chic academics (see here).
Indeed on its Facebook page the Muslim Collective for childhood urges supporters to mobilise to protect the family and their children! Part of the collective’s rallying cry is: “NO to gender theory being taught in schools of the Republic …Yes to children’s rights!”
In an extensive recent cover report for L’Express magazine staff writer Tugdual Denis notes: “Half a century after the libertarian May ’68, the political tide is being reversed in favour of nation, order, justice and family”.
He goes on: “Lawyer Karim Achoui elected ‘Personality of the Year 2013’ by Oumma.com, a Muslim community site which attracts 6 million visitors a month, said: ‘The family, the nation, religion: our fight is for the same values … many French Muslims over the last few months have come to share the same concerns as the ultra-right … In my circles, those I talk to and discuss these matters with feel they are better represented by Alain Soral than by Jamel Debbouze.’ (Alain Soral is a far right polemicist, founder of the Égalité et Réconciliation website and one of the main sources of political inspiration behind Dieudonné. Jamel Debbouze is a French-Moroccan humorist and strong supporter of the Socialist party).
“While many activists, including Catholics, deny it, a common theme — anti-Semitism — lies behind this reconciliation between Muslims and friends of the ultra right. At the ‘Day of Wrath’ demonstration January 26, the phrase ‘Jews! Jews! Jews!’ and one placard proclaiming ‘Jews, France does not belong to you!’ were paraded by thugs (whom the organisers insisted had gate-crashed the demo).
“The Jew as the common enemy of fundamentalist Islam and European ultra- conservatives would also explains the support that Arab countries offer extreme right-wing organisations. In the 2009 European parliamentary elections for instance Iran backed an anti-Zionist list in Ile-de- France, led by Dieudonné and Alain Soral,” he writes.
Tugdual Denis continues: “Catholic Action withdrew its official support for the Day of Wrath demo after learning that Dieudonné’s supporters would march, while a businesswoman named Béatrice Bourges (spokesman for Printemps Français or the French Spring movement) regretted the focus the march gave to Muslim opponents of gay marriage. The cross and the crescent may flirt but apparently not marry,” he concludes.
Other reports note that Béatrice Bourges wants to remove President Hollande from office under the little-known Article 68 of the constitution in terms of which he could reportedly be impeached for “extreme dereliction of duty”. However Article 68 appears never to have been codified into law so she may face some constitutional difficulties.
Again according to Tugdual Denis: “Tension like tea is brewing in the country, fuelled in the words of sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann, by ‘a spiral of exacerbated identity fundamentalism,” (in plain English — the reaction from the right to years of aggressive demands by the victimisation industry and multicultural minorities). In the conclusion of his latest book, Identités. La bombe à retardement (Textuel) (Identities. The time bomb), Kaufmann writes:’this disaster is characterized by bursts of violence that can become uncontrollable very quickly’.”
If a new revolution is a-boiling in France, those gathering in the teapot appear to be drawn from a very diversely-flavoured crop indeed — the final brew may not be to everyone’s taste.
Story: Ken Pottinger
While Marine le Pen and her Front National — tightly focused on broadening their base of support in the country — have declined any overt support for Manif pour tous street protests, many of their supporters share very permeable borders.
For an excellent analysis of the Front National as an electoral phenomenon read French academic Arun Kapil’s piece here. While written in 2012 it is even more pertinent today with the FN finally reaching the long-predicted point of nationwide electoral breakthrough.
The 32-min video report he refers to, Reportage FR2-Les voix du FN about a village of “exurbs” south of Paris, is here:
The latest issue of Foreign Affairs , a Washington-based publication published by the Council on Foreign Relations, has an article headlined Putin’s Western Allies with an interesting paragraph on the close ties between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the FN’s Marine le Pen: “The Kremlin’s ties to France’s extreme-right National Front have also been growing stronger. Marine Le Pen, the party leader, visited Moscow in June 2013 at the invitation of State Duma leader Sergei Naryshkin, a close associate of Putin’s. She also met with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and discussed issues of common concern, such as Syria, EU enlargement, and gay marriage.
France’s ProRussia TV, which is funded by the Kremlin, is staffed by editors with close ties to the National Front who use the station to espouse views close to National Front’s own perspective on domestic and international politics. The National Front wishes to replace the EU and NATO with a pan-European partnership of independent nations, which, incidentally, includes Russia and would be driven by a trilateral Paris-Berlin-Moscow alliance. Le Pen’s spokesman, Ludovic De Danne, recently recognized the results of the Crimea referendum and stated in an interview with Voice of Russia radio that, “historically, Crimea is part of Mother Russia.” In the same interview, he mentioned that he had visited Crimea several times in the past year. Marine Le Pen also visited Crimea in June 2013.”
(H/T: Arun Kapil @ArunInParis)
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