After Toulouse, Reviewing the Politics of Hate
The slaughter of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse, and the emergence of a Muslim suspect who claims ties to al-Qaeda, has focused a piercing light on the temporarily halted presidential campaign, and specifically the heated rhetoric that has characterised the argument over immigration.
Nicolas Sarkozy, in order to win over disgruntled Front National voters, has moved decidedly rightward on this subject. Appearing on France 2’s Des paroles et des actes, he proclaimed that integration in France was failing since there are “too many foreigners on our territory”. He proposed to “divide by two the number of people that we welcome”. In the same vein, in a later campaign speech Sarkozy threatened to pull France out of the Schengen zone.
The President even engaged in a debate with Le Pen over kosher and halal meat, following her assertion that “all the abattoirs of the Paris region have succumbed to the rules of a minority”. After initially dismissing her claims, Sarkozy flip-flopped, calling for all meat sold in France to have labels outlining the method of slaughter.
The Prime Minister, François Fillon, was promptly dispatched to repair relations with the Jewish and Muslim communities, yet the damage is already self-evident. In a campaign marked for its lack of ideas or substance, racial and religious minorities became the subject of demonisation and delegitimisation. Sarkozy’s Interior Minister, Claude Gueant, went so far as to openly use the old nationalist axiom, “les Français ne se sentent plus chez eux” – “the French no longer feel at home”.
Nicolas Sarkozy, appearing on national television last night, attempted to solidify his elderly, right-wing base and appeal to wavering Front National supporters by raising the subject of immigration.
Sarkozy did not go as far as previous Gaullist leaders in his rhetoric — nowhere near as far, in fact, as Jacques Chirac, who referred in one awful address to a straw-man Maghrebi with a handful of wives and a dozen children living in a council-run tenement on benefits (…the noise and the smell…).
But, such language is disappointing from a leader of which I expect a lot more. There is enough material on Hollande (Monsieur 75%), Bayrou, and Le Pen to conduct a thorough and fair campaign, using their own policies and rhetoric against them, without going slumming or using godawful dog-whistles.
Le Meilleur Homme: Sarkozy in Light and Shade
There is no perfect candidate running for the French presidency. Then again, putting it mildly, since the inculcation of the Fifth Republic France has never had a perfect President.
The first, Charles de Gaulle, was a quasi-fascist military ruler with a nasty prejudice towards the non-French and Anglo-Saxons in particular. He took power under the cloud of a coup d’etat led by Jacques Massu and other fifth columnists in Algeria, and clung to power by bullying other nations and over-egging the narrative of French resistance during the Second World War. De Gaulle, it should be noted, led this so-called effort from a palatial structure on Carlton Terrace in St. James’s, and subsequently spent the better part of his presidency deriding the very peoples and nations who liberated France not once but twice from foreign aggression during the twentieth century — he was, then, the very epitome of an armchair general.
Those who followed de Gaulle could hardly be as pompous, but the French hardly witnessed a great deal of improvement in the calibre or moral fortitude of their leaders. François Mitterrand was a Petainist sympathiser who laid flowers annually on Armistice Day on the grave of the leader of the Vichy government, a puppet regime which collaborated with the Nazis and was complicit in the Shoah. Mitterrand also hid a secret daughter whom he had fathered with his long-time mistress, opposed German unification following the fall of the Berlin Wall, and presided over such disasters as the genocide in Rwanda (a former French colony and the most Catholic country in Africa), the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, and the HIV contaminated blood scandal.
He was succeeded by Jacques Chirac, a neo-Gaullist race-baiter with ideas above his station, who lead the effort in by-proxy support of Saddam Hussein, in opposition to the long-postponed liberation of Iraq. A French court convicted him late last year of “diverting public funds and abusing public trust” during his tenure as Mayor of Paris — Chirac used the city government as a platform to construct a powerful political and electoral organisation with himself at the centre, using public funds to pay members of his party for jobs which did not exist.
I say all this not just out of a combination of glee and disgust, but to put into some sort of context the competency which marked the Sarkozy presidency above all others, relatively speaking of course. This is not say to that he hasn’t been a little embarrassing, at times seeming as if he was stumbling from one comedic incident to the next: from his drunken post-lunch press conference after meeting Vladimir Putin, to a contretemps out on the stump where he castigated a citizen for neglecting to shake his hand.
The problem for Sarkozy is that these moments which should be considered trifling and ethereal have been blown up, as to make seem more monumental than they truly are, and paint a portrait of Sarkozy as an aloof, bumbling fool, not fit to inhabit the Élysée Palace. This goes some way to explaining why, based upon the most recent survey conducted by French polling organisation CSA, Sarkozy would lose in a runoff with the PS candidate François Hollande by 20 points.