France: The colonial republic

Macron’s racist comments have deep roots — as deep as the origins of the French republic itself

Marine Le Pen was never really the story so much as the symptom. Ever since global terrorism set the new norm in terms of a permanent threat of bombs in public spaces, mass shootings or crowd-ploughing trucks, the politics of identity has found a new source of legitimisation in France.

Muslims are now routinely portrayed as the ‘enemy within’, a term originally coined by René Gontier for Jews in the 1930s, and Le Pen and her party are far from the only ones to have supported the openly racist ideas that are legitimised by a self-declared love of nation. In March 2016, for example, Laurence Rossignol, the Socialist minister of women’s rights, compared Muslim women wearing a headscarf to ‘American negroes who were in favour of slavery’. She found widespread support, not only within her socialist government but also in left-wing presidential candidate Jean Luc Mélenchon, who had previously declared: ‘In France, we don’t wear headscarves.’

Common ‘wisdom’ would have one believe that Islamophobia is a far-right monopoly but in reality it spans the whole political spectrum in France. Indeed, one can go as far back as the mid-19th century and see the same relationship between the French republic and racial domination.

The revolution of 1848, for example, which overthrew the monarchy and reinstated the republic, did not put an end to France’s colonial enterprise — on the contrary. Continue reading

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