France: Rights groups sound alarm on far right’s role in fueling racist hatred

A new report reveals a ‘substantial and rare’ decline in the index of tolerance, which tracks the evolution of prejudices among the French

MEE staff

Far-right National Rally party members celebrate the announcement of the European Parliament election results at the Pavillon Chesnaie du Roy in Paris on 9 June (Julien de Rosa/AFP).
Far-right National Rally party members celebrate the announcement of the European Parliament election results at the Pavillon Chesnaie du Roy in Paris on 9 June (Julien de Rosa/AFP).

Human rights groups in France are sounding the alarm about the “liberation of racist hatred” in the country, which they attribute to gains made by the far right in recent elections.

The National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella emerged as the clear winner of the 9 June European elections in France, obtaining 31.37 percent of the votes. The party is also expected to lead in the snap legislative elections called by President Emmanuel Macron following his defeat.

The RN, which has made the fight against immigration and “national preference” the primary focus of its platform, has drawn accusations of xenophobia and discrimination against minorities, particularly Muslims and people of African descent.

France is currently in a period of political turmoil, facing two major elections within a month and the prospect of its first far-right government since World War II’s Vichy regime. These events have brought the issue of racism sharply into focus once again.

This week, renowned journalists Karim Rissouli and Mohamed Bouhafsi revealed that they had been the targets of racist mail, whose authors stated that the “historically French people… are fed up to their back teeth of all these bicots [racist term used to refer to North African Arabs].”

In the Loiret department in central France, an investigation has been launched after following the airing of a segment on the popular TV programme Envoye Special, where a couple of RN sympathisers made “discriminatory remarks” towards their neighbour, a Black nursing assistant they told to “go to the kennel”.

In Nancy in the east, the public prosecutor’s office is investigating a poster of a far-right candidate with the slogan: “Let’s give white children a future.”

In Calais in the north, a key departure point for migrants heading to England, major French charity Secours Catholique has noted four hostile incidents since President Macron dissolved the National Assembly.

Migrants have reported being sprayed with bleach, targeted with water bombs filled with dirty water at bus stops or subjected to liquid being thrown at them in front of a day reception centre, according to AFP.

Translation: “‘Let’s give white children a future’… this racist poster was stuck on several boards in [the Loiret department], where I am running. It’s a shame. This is the project of the far right: hatred of others (from a very young age), racial hierarchy, division.”

On social media, a xenophobic song called Je partira pas (I will not leave) has gone viral, shared by far-right figures like former presidential candidate Eric Zemmour.

“You will leave/ as you came, you will leave/ when Bardella [wins], you will return home/ you will leave with your Fatma/ the RSA [Active Solidarity Income] is over/ the boat does not wait/ you will have the chance to pray all day/ now you’re starting to piss us off,” the lyrics read.

SOS Racisme, one of the leading French associations fighting xenophobia, filed a complaint for “provocation of racial hatred”, while the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (Licra) reported the song to the courts. According to AFP, TikTok deleted the song from its platform on Thursday.

There has also been a noted increase in the influence of extreme right groups.

Media reports indicate that neo-Nazis and other ultra-right groups have grown increasingly violent, visible and armed in large cities like Montpellier or Lyon. They have targeted left-wing activists and LGBT supporters and chanted slogans like “Islam out of Europe”.

‘The RN is releasing hatred’

“It has been a major trend recently, but now it’s getting worse, it’s frightening,” Nathalie Tehio, president of the Human Rights League, told AFP.

“Among those who kept it secret, there is a sort of laxness; they now tell themselves: ‘That’s it, they are almost in power. We can go for it, frankly’.”

Muslims, in particular, are increasingly concerned about the potential victory of the RN in the upcoming legislative elections scheduled for Sunday, with a second round on 7 July.

“Muslims are constantly called out. Le Pen and Bardella insult us every day and accuse us of all evils. Once in power, RN politicians will set themselves against us,” Yamna Belhbib, a French Muslim woman of Algerian origin, recently told Middle East Eye.

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According to Sihem Zine, president of the NGO Muslims Rights Action, the community is endangered by the political rise of the far right. “We are heading towards a disaster,” she told MEE.

“The destiny of France, but also that of Muslims and ethnic minorities, is now at stake. There will be many departures abroad in the event of a victory of the far right,” she anticipated.

For Licra, “the racists are waiting for their big night and are impatient. The RN is releasing hatred”.

“It is an uninhibited hatred, which frees itself little by little and expresses itself without shame because it is convinced of the victory, tomorrow, of the National Rally in the legislative elections,” said the French NGO’s president, Mario Stasi.

Dominique Sopo, president of SOS Racisme, commented to AFP that it is “a surge which confirms that we are indeed on a political field which authorises all of this”.

“What does the RN say? ‘You are right to be hostile towards immigrants since they are the problem. It is by having fewer of them with us that you will do better’”, he added.

The party defended itself against those allegations: “It is not the RN which is bringing this. It is because society has been fractured,” RN Vice President Sebastien Chenu said on Thursday.

“We will not accept that people can behave badly,” he added, claiming he has himself been the subject of “homophobic threats, anti-white racism”.

Focussing on immigrants

On Thursday, a survey published by the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), a French institution accredited by the UN, showed a decline in the longitudinal index of tolerance, which measures the evolution of prejudices every year, for the second consecutive year.

While still significantly higher than in the 1990s, the decrease is described as “substantial and rare”.

The report also points to an exponential increase in racist acts in 2023, totalling 8,500 crimes or offences, according to the Ministry of the Interior, a 32 percent increase from 2022. It stressed that immigrants are disproportionately targeted.

According to the survey, 56 percent of French people (+3 points) believe that “there are too many immigrants in France”, while 51 percent (+3) feel that “today in France, we no longer feel at home”.

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For the CNCDH, this is “closely linked to the rejection of a France perceived as being increasingly multicultural”.

“The immigrant, a convenient receptacle for all criticism, has regularly been singled out as responsible for the difficulties encountered in our societies,” Jean-Marie Burguburu, CNCDH president, commented.

According to the report, the Roma are the most stigmatised minority and there is a split opinion on Muslims: 32 percent of respondents have a “positive opinion” of Islam and 32 percent do not. 

The CNCDH points to the RN and media organisations for perpetuating these attitudes.

“For several years, the National Rally has benefited from an increased audience at the polls, but also in the media and institutions… there is a whole group of media figures and intellectuals who give voice and try to impose their ways of seeing immigration and diversity,” the report stated.

Notably, CNews, a TV station often accused of promoting far-right perspectives, claimed the top spot as France’s leading news channel for the first time last month. The channel consistently emphasises the narrative that France is threatened by Islam and immigration.

The CNCDH also highlights the government’s responsibility in focusing on immigrants, especially during the political debate surrounding the asylum and immigration law enacted last January.

Supported by the Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin, the legislation was described by migrants rights NGO La Cimade as “one of the most repressive laws in the last 40 years”.

“France is not generally racist because the tolerance index remains high,” Burguburu nuanced. But there is both “a rise in intolerance and also a liberation of [hate] speech”.

Rights groups sound alarm on far right’s role in fueling racist hatred in France

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