Armoured riot police ripped the camp apart and then used batons and tear-gas to disperse the refugees and young anti-racist protestors supporting them. This was the fate of a camp of 500 tents supplied by the charity Utopia56 in the Place de la République in eastern Paris on the night of 24/25 November. It was the temporary home of 500 mainly Afghan refugees. They had already been dispersed from another camp at Saint Denis in the north of the city.
Numerous images of the police attack, including massed ranks of them banging batons on shields, have been posted online, despite a new ‘global security’ law which makes filming and posting about police violence a criminal offence, with up to a year in prison and a £40,000 fine. This in the year of George Floyd’s murder by racist cops in the States and the global Black Lives Matter uprising.
That’s not all. Children are being spied on in schools. French police have just raided a Muslim household in Albertville in the French Alps, seized computers, and arrested two ten-year-olds. Why? Because it was reported that ‘they had defended terrorism’ in a classroom discussion on ‘freedom of expression’.
The cops of the capitalist state – not armed militias – are the primary instrument of fascist-type repression. But this is not Trump, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, or Modi. This is the France of former liberal-centrist Emmanuel Macron. And this sudden ramping up of police racism and violence has been green-lighted by his regime.
Things took a nasty turn on 16 October, when Macron delivered an Islamophobic attack on France’s five million Muslims (9% of the population) that echoed the sentiments of the far-right Front National of Marine Le Pen. ‘Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world,’ he announced. It is ‘plagued by radical temptations’ and ‘a yearning for a reinvented jihad which is the destruction of the other’. The aim is to create ‘a parallel order, to erect other values, to develop another organisation of society, separatist at first, but its final goal is to take control’.
This is nothing less than ‘the international Jewish conspiracy’ of the Nazis reconfigured for the era of the so-called ‘war on terror’. Muslims have become the Jews of the early 21st century.
Macron – who came from nowhere, represented nothing, and whose only virtue was that he was ‘none of the others’ – was hailed as the young prince of civilisation when he decisively defeated Le Pen in the French presidential election of 2017. But representing nothing, he could become anything; so he has morphed into a law-and-order authoritarian peddling racism and police power.
Macron’s latest pick for interior minister tells its own story. Gerald Darmanin is a protégé of Nicholas Sarkozy, the former right-wing president. He is orchestrating the police crackdown, arguing that ‘France is at war’ and that his mission is ‘to stop certain segments of society from returning to savagery’.
Macron’s 16 October speech was in response to the beheading of a French schoolteacher by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee. This attack was followed by another on 30 October, when three churchgoers were killed in Nice by a 21-year-old Tunisian refugee. It is this second attack that has triggered the latest police crackdown and a raft of new measures.
A new bill requires children to have ID numbers, imposes restrictions on home learning, and threatens parents with up to six months in prison for violations. Macron is demanding that French Muslim leaders sign up to a ‘Charter of Republican Values’ that states that Islam is not a political movement and that prohibits ‘foreign interference’. A new ‘National Council of Imams’ is to be established to decide who can and who cannot preach.
Not only is the conflation of jihadism and Islam complete; so too is the conflation of terrorism and migration. Border controls are being strengthened, with a doubling in the number of border police, because, says Macron, this is necessary to combat the ‘terrorist threat’. ‘We see very clearly that terrorist actions can actually be led by some people who use migratory flows to threaten our territory. So, we must reinforce our controls for reasons of national security.’
Darmanin, meantime, has announced that ‘Parents who go to a teacher to tell them to stop teaching cartoons protected by freedom of speech, tomorrow that will be a criminal offence. They could face prosecution, even deportation. And a judge can – this is extremely important – a judge will be able to say, “If you’re a foreigner who commits this crime, you can leave this country.”’
The liberal-centrist regime of 2017 is now a hard-right regime: it has the politics and the policies of Marine Le Pen’s Front National. Macron is reaching out to racist voters in anticipation of the presidential election in 2022. He is reaching out by adopting the politics of the Vichy regime of 1940-44.
After the defeat of France in 1940, the country was divided into a northern zone under direct Nazi control and a southern zone controlled by a far-right collaborationist regime under Marshal Pétain, with its capital at Vichy. This regime incarcerated communists and socialists, waged a counter-insurgency war against resistance fighters, and deported tens of thousands of Jews to the Nazi extermination camps. Macron stands in the shadow of Vichy.
This is creeping fascism with a vengeance. Macron’s sharp shift to the right – to anti-Muslim and anti-migrant racism and to police repression – fuels the narrative of the Front National. This is the great-moving-right show of mainstream politics that is strengthening the grip of nationalism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism.
But that is not all. Macron plays not only to the white-supremacist right, but also to the Islamist right, for the jihadists represent the Islamic form of fascism, and nothing serves them better than to have state racism and violent cops drive disaffected Arab youth in the banlieus towards their toxic kind of politics. The former liberal-centre – what Tariq Ali dubs ‘the extreme centre’ – thus becomes a key pivot in the symbiotic relationship between Western and Islamic variants of creeping fascism.
The political conclusions are clear: Solidarity with all Muslims and migrants! Against state racism and violent cops! For the unity of the oppressed and the working class! No return to the 1930s!
Neil Faulkner is the author, with Samir Dathi, Phil Hearse, and Seema Syeda, of Creeping Fascism: what it is and how to fight it.