Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Politics of Fear.

Should I feel ashamed of my country because my government does shameful things?
That's a question that both French and Americans can ask at different times. G. W. Bush gave a bad name to the U.S. just like Sarkozy is giving a bad name to France these days:

Following a riot of a few "Gypsies" against French gendarmes in the south of France, French president Nicolas Sarkozy decided not only to "severely punish" the rioters but also to expel all the (illegal) Romani gypsies from France.
The French government gave assurances that no ethnic group was singled out - which would be illegal under European law and a breach of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. But a leaked instruction from the Interior Minister to the Police showed that the "Romani" were indeed actually specifically targeted.
So it appears that France has actually violated a document which (oh the irony....!)President Nicolas Sarkozy pressured others (like Ireland or Poland) to sign up to the Lisbon treaty.
Faced with a wave of criticisms in Europe - which may even take the form of legal action against France by the European Commission - France's official position has remained defiant, thanks to Sarkozy's inflated ego. Condemnation was not limited to Europe, it went from the Pope to the United Nations, and marches against "hate and xenophobia" were organized throughout France (here).
The French president did not back down and his quick temper even turned the summit meeting of E.U. leaders that followed into a circus of mud-slinging and division.
This comes in a context of a French president weakened by one of the lowest presidential approval rates in the last 50 years - a mere 32% (not even close to Obama's at 42%) so he has been trying to revive his popularity by cracking down on crime and illegal immigrants which made him popular with his electorate in the past.

The interesting point is that just like the American right these days (i.e. the Tea Party), the French government has been using fear to regain popularity and votes. This politics of fear is nothing new but with it seems to be working really well with older white folks.
In the last few months, French Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux who smacks of racism has been keen on playing this dirty trick, blaming the immigrants, the Romani (and confusing Romanians with Romanis) or even the Judges (here) when new figures show the Sarkozy's crackdown on crime doesn't work (it has doubled in the last decade).
“Nationality should be stripped from anyone of foreign origin who deliberately endangers the life of a police officer, a soldier or a gendarme, or anyone else holding public office. We are suffering the consequences of 50 years of insufficiently regulated immigration which has led to a failure of integration,” said Sarkozy.
In addition, this government has been making all sorts of populist moves as attempts at diverting the French from recent political scandals and a bad economy. Examples abound : the ban on the full Muslim veil, the two-year jail sentences for the parents of minors convicted of crime, an unnecessary debate over national identity (with the implied idea that foreigners may be a threat to the French identity) a number of tough security laws, including laws to restrict the Internet (called Loppsi 2 which may potentially undermine freedom of expression), and the alleged attempt to stifle freedom of the press.

While comparing France's removal of Romani the plight of Gypsies during WWII and France to a fascist state is ridiculous.

Yes, like most French people I am sensitive to France's image in the world because it has repercussions on me when I travel or when I meet foreigners and no one likes to be given a bad name, but more importantly, there is a question of collective responsibility as I am associated with Sarkozy even if I didn't vote for him, but what can a citizen do? Vote him out, I guess, but takes another election... and the agreement of a few other million people.

As much as I may disagree with the right over the economy, there is room for discussion (I also disagree with the left), but what is unforgivable and non-negotiable is the tactic of fear and populism to get elected. Unfortunately, it seems that this is something very easy to do these days that the right both in France and in the U.S. is very good at. That tactic may take different forms, but it is basically the same strategy. Not only is it a morally wrong, it is also dangerous. One the best is out and has been fed, there may be no way to control it!

No comments: