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‘I Fear For My Safety’: The Alt-Right Threatens the Arab Diaspora in France

“Being happy like an Arab in France”

In a powerful display of defiance on the night of June 30, thousands of Parisians flooded the streets chanting “siamo tutti antifascisti” (we are all anti-fascist), one of Italy’s most famous antifascist slogans from the 1930s, to protest the far-right’s success in the first round of the French parliamentary elections. This spontaneous demonstration underscores the widespread alarm that has gripped the French populace after a brief yet intense campaign aimed at preventing the far-right’s ascent.

The National Rally (RN), led by Jordan Bardella, achieved a historic 33.2% vote share, securing their position in the second round of the elections. This result follows their recent victory in the European elections, a development that compelled French President Emmanuel Macron to dissolve his government in a dramatic response to his party’s defeat.

“The decision to dissolve the general meeting was completely unexpected and came as a shock after the European election results. No one saw it coming, and it left us all in disbelief,” states Medhi, a French citizen of Moroccan origin. The dissolution spurred a rapid campaign period, during which the newly formed union of the Left, the New Popular Front (NFP), emerged as the primary opposition to the RN, garnering 28.27% of the vote.

As a result of the parliamentary election outcome, France’s deep-seated polarization has been exposed. Over 12 million voters supported the RN, a party with a controversial history rooted in racism and xenophobia. “It’s huge that out of 67% of the electorate that voted, 12 million chose a party that has no agenda other than hatred for Arabs, Black people, and Muslims,” exclaims Reem, a French-Algerian journalist.

The RN was founded by members of the Waffen-SS and its first president, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was infamous for his views of the Third Reich and his role as a torturer during the Algerian War. The party remains outspokenly anti-abortion, anti-immigration, and resistant to acknowledging historical atrocities like the Holocaust and the Algerian War. It has also been a vocal proponent of banning the veil in France.

The RN’s potential rise to power signals a troubling increase in fascist and racist sentiment, fueled in recent years by growing Islamophobia.

Julien Talpin, French sociologist and researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) specializing in the experience of discrimination within marginalized communities in France, reports: “We know that, in France, there are still forms of interpersonal racism, as well as discrimination, whether on the job market, in housing, or police interactions. The Arab population in France often suffers from a deep malaise due to the lack of institutional responses.” This climate has empowered the police, leading to incidents such as the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Nahel by a police officer in 2023.

A closer look at the RN’s political platform reveals legislation aimed at “reinforcing respect for the Republic’s principles,” including measures to prevent “direct or indirect funding of these ideologies or the infiltration of Islamists into the civil service.” This rhetoric underscores their view of the Arab diaspora as the primary threat to the French Republic. In an open letter for Le Figaro, Bardella stated, “The time has come to defend secularism against its real enemies, not Christmas cribs, but Islamic preachers who adhere solely to the laws of their prophets.”

Talpin notes that recent legislation, such as the 2021 bill against separatism, has exacerbated Islamophobia, making Arabs the focal point of various societal fears. The central part of their legislation prohibits people with dual nationalities, particularly those of Arab-African descent from certain countries from taking up high-profile, sensitive jobs. “This will have significant consequences, especially in terms of employment and increased police violence in working-class neighborhoods. There might be a kind of legitimizing signal sent by the arrival of the RN in a highly polarised French society, where racist speech is likely to be unleashed despite everything,” he adds.

Since the results, France witnessed several incidents of police violence, including the racist lynching of a 19-year-old student in southern France by four men, and the death of a French-Algerian homeless man who was shot seven times by a policeman while sleeping in a park. “There is this saying, ‘Being happy like an Arab in France.’ For the first time, I fear for my safety,” shares Reem. “Racism in France has always existed, but now it’s out in the open. It’s not just verbal insults anymore; I’m afraid someone might physically harm me.”

Many, including Medhi, viewed the RN’s rise as predictable. “The backdrop for this has been building for years, so the results on June 30, while shocking, were not entirely surprising,” he remarked.

Macron’s strategy to eliminate competition by the dissolution seems to have backfired, catapulting the RN closer to power and further stigmatizing the Arab diaspora. “Political discourse shapes societal actions and perceptions, and there is a crucial need to educate civil society and the media,” Talpin emphasized.

Reem criticized the media for amplifying the RN’s platform, saying, “The media’s focus on the RN, often at the expense of other parties, has played a significant role in this outcome.”

As France faces the prospect of a far-right government for the first time since World War II, the spectre of the Vichy regime’s complicity in the Holocaust haunts the public conscience. “History shows us that nothing is immutable and everything can be resisted,” reflects Medhi.

Second-round elections are taking place on July 7, and tension is palpable, especially among Arab-Africans who hope to repel fascism. Medhi emphasizes, “We’ve been oscillating between fear and hope for the past two weeks… The uncertainty makes the wait even more agonizing.”

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