France: The Islamophobia and the rise of the far-right

Written by: Shima Ali , a researcher at the European Center for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies in Germany and Netherlands.

Far-right parties and groups in France continue to use racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric. The French Judiciary has assigned the Internal Intelligence Agency to investigate “far-right groups planning terrorist and violent attacks against Muslim targets.” Thus the “far-right terror” has become a grave danger threatening European states, which requires a decisive confrontation.

The National Rally party

It was founded by “Jean Mary le Pen” in 1972, and he remained as its head until 2011 before he was replaced by his daughter “Marine Le Pen”. When She took over the party, she played on the anti-immigrant sentiments, particularly the Muslims, and the threat these immigrants pose to the limited job opportunities, before she resorted to security concerns. France24 website noted on the June 1, 20118, that the leader of the far-right managed successfully to get rid of the current name of her party “The National Front” which many associate it with racism and anti-Semitism.

The party’s new name has become the “National Rally”, but the party remains committed to issues like security and immigration on which Marine Le Pen focuses. Former European MP and economist “Bernard Mono”, who left the “National Front”, criticizes his former party for “refraining from addressing social and economic issues, while focusing solely on issues like security, counter-terrorism, and immigration”.

The far-right gains strength in France

A new poll published by German newspaper “Bild” on March 9, 2018, quoting Al-Jazeera website, predicts that the far-right parties would increase the number of their seats in the upcoming European Parliament elections by two-fold. The poll-which surveyed more than 9500 people in six countries in late February and early March 2019- shows that France tops the list of countries that have far-right parties.

According to a report by “Euronews” on November 4, 2018, polls show that the French far-right “National Rally” party, headed by Marine Le pen, overtakes for the first time the “Le Republique En Marche” party which is headed by French president “Emanuel Macron”. These polls have been conducted to survey voters’ opinions ahead of the anticipated European Parliament elections on May 2019. The polls show that “Le Republique En Marche” received 19% of the votes, compared to 20% of the votes in august 2018, while the “National Rally” got 21% of the votes, compared to 17% of the votes previously.

Islamphobia in France

According to a report published by “Al-Azhar Observatory” on May 4 2018, the Association against Islamphobia In France (CCIF) detected 446 cases of Islamphobia in 2017, compared to 580 cases in 2016. As for the year 2017, CCIF detected 78 cases of Islamphobia, 58 cases of hate speeches, 31 physical attacks, and 8 cases of jobs being negatively affected. The CCIF detected also a worrying indicator that shows that women were more vulnerable to the effects of Islamophobia than men (69% versus 31%, respectively))

The dangers of the far-right in France

According to a report by Al-Arabiya on November 24, 2018, the French interior minister “Kristoph Castner” accused the far-right of encouraging acts of violence and clashes with police forces in Paris, as the “Yellow Vests” protesters called for their supporters to head to the ChampsÉlysées despite the authorities’ ban on holding demonstrations in that street. The “Al-Shark Al-Awsat” newspaper published a report on May 29 ,2018, titled “formal charges issued against 10 French far-right detainees”. The report says that French judiciary assigned the Internal Intelligence agency to investigate “field forces” affiliated with the far-right that planned to carry out violent and terrorist attacks against Muslim targets. Ten members of this far-right group, including one woman, were arrested. Formal charges were issued against them, most notably “forming a terrorist gang with criminal objectives, and possessing banned weapons”. The group offered training courses on using weapons of war. Security forces found at least 22 rifles, 17 pistols along with thousands of bullets, in addition to other different weapons and bomb-making materials.

On June 26, 2018, France24 published a report titled “what is the significance of the arrest of a group that planned attacks against Muslims in France?” In this report, “Stephan Francois”, expert on far-right groups, stressed that “French intelligence agencies’ surveillance of far-right groups is difficult, as they are widely dispersed across the country, and are ideologically diverse.”

The Expert emphasized that these groups often work in a semi-clandestine and informal way, making it hard for French intelligence agencies to follow them, especially if these groups avoid using modern communication methods among themselves like the Internet, for example. The Expert estimates that the number of people affiliated with the far-right groups in France could reach 3000 people, among them are 1000 people determined to translate their extremism into actions.

The far-right and the European Union

According to a report by “Sky-News Arabic” on January 14, 2019, the “National Rally” party, formerly known as “National Front”, launched a campaign for the European Parliament elections, vowing to defeat the centrist party of the French president “Emanuel Macron”. Le pen said that “If Macron doesn’t have the wisdom to change his policies, and if he doesn’t have the wisdom to return to the people by dissolving the parliament and holding fresh elections, then the people will express their discontent in the European elections.” Le Pen accused the French president of being “blind” and “stubborn”. And she urged the thousands of the anti-Macron Yellow Vests protesters to make the European Parliament elections a referendum on his policies.

According to a “Russia Today” report on September 19, 2018, the French far-right “National Front” leader “Marin Le Pen” stressed that the European Union has become dictatorial, and causes damage to Europe, proposing to replace the EU with what is called “European People Union”. Le Pen described the immigration policy and the economic and political union as reckless and self-defeating, adding that “the European Union is not Europe, and the European Union is an ideological structure, and an institution governed by an anonymous authority that centrally manages an unlimited area that stretches to Turkey or the Maghreb region.

The far-right terror is more dangerous that the Jihadi terror.

In an interview with the “BBC” on March 19, 2018, Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said that research show that far-right terrorists in Europe tend to work “independently” compared to Muslim extremists. According to database, 40% of far-right terrorists were caught by mere coincidence, compared to 12% of their Islamist counterparts.

The EU law enforcement agency “Europol” recorded a two-fold rise in the number of detainees accused of committing far-right crimes in 2017. Furthermore, according to a report published by “Al-Arabiya” website on December 5, 2018, ten far-right extremists who had planned to kill Muslims were arrested in France in the summer of 2018.

Media double standards in dealing with terrorism

European media are accused of impartiality and sympathy with the far-right. This double standard was evident in French media’s support for far-right concepts in many occasions, according to a report published on July 27, 2018, by the “Islamphobia Observatory” of the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa. In an interview with “Al-Shark Al-Awsat” newspaper published on May 21, 2018, the professor at the Belgian Antwerp university, Luke Jossen, says that “the media play a big role in spreading a negative image of specific groups, and authorities have a responsibility to combat any kind of racism and phobia against the others. This can be achieved by properly integrating foreigners into society, and foreign immigrants respecting the values of their host societies”

Conclusion

France is witnessing a rise in hate speeches directed generally at immigrants and Muslims in particular, and the far-right “National Rally” party is running for European Parliament elections on a platform that calls for the expulsion of immigrants and preventing others from entering the country. These opinions have led, directly or indirectly, to the rise of Islamphobia. And they aim to divide French society along ethnic lines.

The renaming of the French “National Front” party marks a new turn in the French political scene, aimed at reorganizing the party, overcoming the presidential elections setback, and improving its image. The dangers of far-right extremism have expanded to include forming terrorist groups dispersed across the country, and armed with banned weapons as well as bomb-making materials to attack Muslims. The spread of these extremist groups poses a grave danger against French security due to French intelligence agencies’ inability to monitor them.

It is clear that there is a close resemblance between tactics employed by these far-right groups and the tactics of ISIS, despite their different ideologies. Therefore, European governments should adopt new policies that promote the establishment of a united front, and refrain from conflating Islam with terrorism. European governments should also activate their official policies that promote full integration of immigrant into European societies, and strengthen the role of these policies in combating the far-right practices.

   Publishing rights reserved to   European Center for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies in Germany and Netherlands.

Shima Ali

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