Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité or France’s Law Against Separatism

The latest in a slew of demonstrations held throughout France was on Saturday, December 12, (article in The Guardian) (article from Dec 12 in ABC News) to protest the recent law under consideration in response to the horrific murder of Samuel Paty. The law in question, otherwise known as the Law Against Separatism, is a blatant attempt to strengthen institutionalized racism and the economic oppression of the racialized Muslim population of France.

I had the honor of attending the Paris Islamophobia Conference, and the discussion largely centered around this most recent attempt to legislate discrimination, racism, and the violence of the police state. In this article, panelists’ contribution to the discussion are cited in parentheses, however all the panelists and moderators contributed to this article and not all are named. 

There is no racism without capitalism and no capitalism without racism.

“In France, under the disguise of secular racism and oppression, laws are being portrayed as resistance to Islam.” (Francoise Verges.) The difficulty of discussing anti-Blackness and Islamophobia represents a complicated tangle of problems; however it is clear that it is connected to economic exploitation generally.  “There is no racism without capitalism and no capitalism without racism.” (Francoise Verges)

Houria Bouteldja reported that protests against the law against Separatism were actually mostly White due to many Muslims being afraid of the police. The general call made is for resistance to measures which, in the name of securitization, target minorities, and in particular religious freedom and other human rights.

Recently, 100 academics issued a statement condemning decolonial and anti-racist academic work as contributing to terrorism and radicalization.  While a  response was issued and signed by 2,000 academics, and the conflation of terrorism with antiracism the use of terms in France like Islamogauchism, compared to the term JudeoBolshevism from the French Nazi era, has such support that the passage of this law seems frighteningly likely to be passed.

“It is clear that Islamophobia is played to separate White workers from racialized populations to support capitalism.” (Ramon Grosfuguel.) Just as antisemitism was used to direct working classes to fight other workers instead of the classes who are the actual source of oppression, and similar to the “Make America Great Again” movement, racist tendencies in France are being leveraged to move the conversation from the economic crises facing the country towards militarization. Racism keeps White people on the side of the Imperialist system, and has always kept their people in support of economic exploitation and the concentration of wealth away from the many towards the few.

“Precarity of life needs to be apprehended universally within the socioeconomic contexts of housing, health care, and freedoms of speech and thought.” (Butler, 2010.) If precarity is used as a divisive force rather than a unifying force, we have the police state as we see it around the world. The fear, dehumanization, and “othering” of parts of society makes the precariousness of certain people seem to be threatened by racialized groups.

And in fact it is not just the precariousness of their physical security, but their ideological security, as exemplified by the aggressive protection of Laïcité in France. “While the 1905 law that concretized Laïcité, or the separation of church and state in France, was intended to be based or universal fraternity, it’s application has become racialized and securitized. In addition, with the merging of the 2004 Burka Law and Law of Separatism, it is impossible to be a whistleblower against discrimination without breaking the law.” (Asif Arif.) The suppression of freedom of speech, be it through the destruction of academic freedom supported by the racist academy, or the prevention of resistance to discrimination, such as the the law of separatism’s articles which limit the press, is exactly the opposite of the goal of Laïcité, which was intended to support Republican values.

What we saw in the wake of the Samuel Paty murder was horrifying. Muslim children are being arrested as a result of the  French outrage against terrorism. The Collectif Contre Islamophobie en France (CCIF) is being dismantled by government order at a time when it is needed more than ever. Over 50 mosques have been closed.

“Part of the change we are seeing in France is that now White French people seem to be facing the integration of Muslims into every area of society.  The former antagonism and devastation of colonialism has changed.  ‘The enemy is among us!’ seems to be the current outcry.” (Hamza Esmili.) “And the answer is the vise like grip of the state tightening endlessly.” At this point, which a former Socialist like Macron should and can appreciate, the state violates the very principles that it proposes to protect. This incredibly dangerous trend, both in France and globally, threatens to destroy our freedom and critically erode our common humanity.

France is a key player in the fight against fascism internationally, as well as the work to build a world where their very core values of  Liberté, égalité, fraternité truly represent the standard for nations world wide.

This gangrenous spread of fascism both in France as well as around the world must be resisted. How should this resistance occur? Where do we take our stand against a global resolution against legislation like the law against separatism? It can be resisted in courts of law nationally and internationally. It also can be resisted with arguments about the unconstitutional nature of laws like these in the European and International court of Human Rights which could respond and strike them down. The UN Commission on human rights, edicts and  NGOs, which protect human rights and religious freedom, including global organizations like Amnesty International, can and should continue to speak out against the dissolution of the CCIF and these types of laws in general as attacks on our freedom. 

France is a key player in the fight against fascism internationally, as well as the work to build a world where their very core values of  Liberté, égalité, fraternité truly represent the standard for nations world wide. These values, what they call Republican values, are the core components we need for world peace, harmony, and happiness.  The French government must defend these essential values so they do not become confused by the tragedies of violence that have traumatized their society.  It is the truth of human society that we have often risen above our conflicts and troubles to unite for peace. 

In the chaos of World War II the French fought Nazism and antisemitism in ways that helped the plague of Nazism be defeated.  In fact, the overall strategy of the giant of French history, Charles de Gaulle, was to call for French leadership in the fight for peace and against oppression.  Indeed, it is noticeable that Macron spoke out in 2017 about the colonization of Algeria, which ended under de Gaulle’s leadership, calling the colonization of Algeria a “crime against humanity.” 

Just as the United States has a tragic history both past and present of racism, so does France. 

France, like the United States, like Britain, like so many others, is faced with a deep divide between the ideals of freedom and the policies of security and counter-terrorism.  Trump’s catastrophic world leadership has badly damaged our collective fight for a better world.  The irresponsible and criminally negligent decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accords was one of many ways the United States undermined the possibility of progressive leadership from Paris for the world. 

However, we are not without hope.  Just as the United States has a tragic history both past and present of racism, so does France.  But the people of France, the people of the United States, and the people of the world can continue to hope and work for leadership in the halls of power towards peace. 

Macron, with his ties to socialism, his openness to accountability around colonialism, and his commitment to the ideals of French leadership, can take this opportunity to show leadership, or he can succumb to the destruction of freedom that we see continuing through the endless war started by the United States.  He has condemned the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar and has spoken out for human rights before; is it possible that France will back away from the precipice upon which their society teeters and stand firm for the Republican values they have long represented to the world?  

The American Revolution was dependent upon the support of the French people.  The leadership of France can again lead to a Revolution that will ring through the centuries.  Will the French people of good conscience prevail and truly be a beacon for the Republican values the whole world holds dear?  This remains to be seen.

Sarah is a social worker in the San Francisco Bay Area with at-risk and homeless youth. She likes to paint, drum, sing, and spend quality time with her family and God.