Leftists may be rejoicing at Hollande’s victory over Sarkozy, but the true victors may be the LePenists:
by Graham Murray (IRR)
The defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy on 6 May 2012 should be celebrated as a victory against Islamophobia and racism. No other French presidential candidate from ‘mainstream’ politics tapped into the ideology of the far Right to the extent that Sarkozy did. In an unashamed bid to seduce Front National (FN) voters for whom he expressed his ‘respect’, Sarkozy effectively became the Petri dish of ‘Lepenism’. The discourse of the FN, once anathema to so-called French ‘republican values’ was ‘normalised’ under Sarkozy’s watch: from immigration to opposing the right to vote for immigrants, from France’s Christian roots to Halal meat and, of course, the dreaded burqa, Sarkozy – himself the son of an immigrant – borrowed the divisive and hateful discourse of the extreme Right and somehow believed that his fake ‘Lepenism’ would pass off for the genuine item.
Ultimately, however, Sarkozy’s achievement was to give credibility to the ideology of the far Right, and the timing was perfect: Marine Le Pen’s shrewd and polished style was the antithesis of her father’s provocative, vicious bulldog persona. Marine chose the well-trodden path of contemporary far-Right parties, distancing herself from her father’s apparent anti-Semitism and focusing instead on Islam and immigration. When Sarkozy attempted to tag onto one of Marine Le Pen’s hate campaigns and declared that the ‘principle subject of concern in the discussions of the French people … is this question of Halal meat’ even some of his own Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) party members cringed. Satirists milked Sarkozy’s madness, with one cartoonist portraying closed factories, tax breaks for the rich, high petrol prices and deteriorating public services, all stamped with the word ‘Halal’, as if the latter really mattered more than the fundamental issues of the day. The 2011 law banning the wearing of the burqa was clearly an act of cynical Islamophobia which sought to attract FN voters rather than tackle a real ‘problem’. While France is home to five million Muslims, fewer than 2,000 of the country’s Muslim women are believed to wear a face veil.
Sarkozy surrounded himself with likeminded provocateurs in his bid to woo FN supporters. Interior Minister Claude Guéant provoked outrage when he told right-wing students ‘all civilisations are not equal’, a statement whose absurdity was mocked even by the FN. It was perhaps an ‘initiative’ of Sarkozy’s, Minister for Immigration, Integration and National Identity, Eric Besson that marked the nadir of Sarkozy’s presidency. With Sarkozy’s backing, Besson managed to perfectly combine the ridiculous and the reactionary when he launched a series of town hall meetings across France to discuss and define French national identity. The national identity ‘debate’ turned into a nefarious conduit for racism and Islamophobia and was even criticised by UMP politicians. But Sarkozy expressed ‘very strong support’ for Besson and criticised his detractors. In 2010, the then Interior Minister and Sarkozy’s friend and ally, Brice Hortefeux was fined for making racist comments about a young UMP activist of Algerian origin. In a video clip which was circulated on the internet a woman is heard to say of the activist: ‘He is one of us … he is our little Arab’, to which Hortefeux apparently responds, ‘We always need one. It’s when there are lots of them that there are problems.’