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Surge in Racist Attacks as France Prepares for Legislative Elections

Paris, July 04, 2024, The Europe Today: A firefighter chased out of a building near Lille to cries of “This is France, out with the Arabs”; a bakery in Avignon defaced with racist and homophobic slogans and then set on fire for employing an Ivorian apprentice; a teenager beaten and almost drowned in a canal near Nîmes by four men yelling, “Go back to Jihad City”; a shopkeeper in Perpignan receiving a letter commanding her to “leave for Africa” before her neighborhood is “mercilessly cleansed”; a bus driver in a Paris suburb assaulted and run over by a man shouting, “I’m tired of people like you, Bougnoules (derogatory term for Arabs) and Blacks – I vote National Rally, I’ll kill you, I’ll massacre you, I’ll eradicate you.”

These are just a few of the dozens of racist attacks documented by local media in France during the three weeks of chaotic and often virulent campaigning preceding France’s two-round legislative elections. The first round, held on June 30, saw Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) topping the polls following its triumph in the European elections earlier in the month.

In another such incident, Karim Rissouli, a journalist for public broadcaster France 5, read out a threatening letter he received at his home, informing him that he had failed to heed the message from voters in the European polls. “The fundamental reason for the RN vote is that the historic people of France are sick and tired of Bicots,” the letter read, using a racist term for people of North African descent. “Native Frenchmen will never accept you and your brothers.”

Such attacks reflect a loosening of tongues at the prospect of a far-right party coming to power in France for the first time since the Nazi era, said the anti-racism watchdog SOS Racisme. The organization, founded in the 1980s in response to the rise of the then-named Front National, highlighted an alarming increase in both verbal and physical racist attacks.

“With the rise of the far right, we’re witnessing an explosion in racist attacks, not only verbal but also physical,” said SOS Racisme in remarks carried by Mediapart. “We are dealing with people who think that if the RN comes to power, they will have institutional support to behave in this way,” added its president, Dominique Sopo.

The lightning campaign, triggered by President Emmanuel Macron’s startling decision to dissolve the National Assembly, has exacerbated a broader rise in prejudice and racist attacks documented by France’s Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme (CNCDH), a state-backed human rights watchdog.

In its annual report published on June 27, the CNCDH flagged a 32% spike in racist attacks in 2023 and a record rise in anti-Semitic incidents, the latter attributed in large part to the fallout from the war in Gaza. Citing a “significant deterioration in the perception of immigration,” the CNCDH noted that its tolerance index, which measures society’s openness to diversity, had slipped sharply for the second year running after years of steady improvement.

The report revealed that 56% of people surveyed believe “there are too many immigrants in France,” up 7% from spring 2022. Similarly, 51% said they “don’t feel at home like they used to,” an increase of 3% from the previous year.

The CNCDH spoke of a shift from the “biological racism” of old to a “more cultural, identity-based form,” centered on the “purported inability of immigrants and foreigners to conform to the norms and values of the Republic.” The survey found that 54% of National Rally supporters and a quarter of those who backed the conservative Les Républicains party described themselves as racist. The report described the RN’s platform as being in “frontal opposition to the principles of equality, fraternity, and freedom” enshrined in the French constitution, warning that it would embolden racist opinions.

As France approaches the second round of legislative elections, the rise in racist attacks underscores the deepening divisions and growing intolerance within the country.