A response came unexpectedly from Stanislas Guerini, the delegate-general of En Marche, who quoted Bardella’s tweet and said the values of the party “are not compatible with the conspicuous wearing of religious symbols on electoral campaign material.” He continued by saying, “Either these candidates change their picture, or [En Marche] will withdraw its support.”
Though nothing in electoral law prohibits wearing “religious symbols,” one of the leaders of the ruling party still decided to play into the tactics of the far right. This concerning move shows how racist rhetoric has been disseminated across the political spectrum. Though Guerini’s statement exposed internal divisions within the party (it was “discrimination,” according to MP Naïma Moutchou), the decision was ultimately taken not to support Zemmahi.
With a presidential election coming in 2022, Guerini knows more than anyone that the National Rally has a good chance of getting a significant share of the ballots. His party could have chosen to counter with more inclusive discourse to take the lead on how minorities are portrayed in the public sphere. But they have given up on changing public attitudes, deciding instead to chase after voters who are seduced by ideologies that exclude.
This is not the only such example. When the police recently announced a protest in memory of two officers recently killed in the line of duty, one reportedly by a terrorist, the initial purpose was to express solidarity with the profession. But police unions called for stricter, more repressive security policies, which is the complete opposite of traditional political demands on the left. Police officers decided to gather in front of the National Assembly to pressure lawmakers, undermining the principle of separation of power. During the mobilization, a police union leader called for the “the limitations of the law and the constitution” to “give way” to crack down on offenders more toughly.
Yet it was surprising to see most visible figures from the left join the demonstration without any critique. The exception was presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a favorite on the left, who announced that he and his party would not attend. Among those present at the rally were French Communist Party presidential candidate Fabien Roussel, Greens leader Yannick Jadot and Olivier Faure, the head of the French Socialist Party. Faure sparked outrage during the protest when he said that the police should have a “right of scrutiny” over judicial decisions; he later walked that statement back.
The contradiction for the left does not lie in supporting the police in their mourning, but rather in promoting a repressive agenda. There are other ways to highlight issues to improve the working conditions of the police, who have seen worrying increases in the rate of suicides among officers.
Yet left-wing parties seem to be more focused on their image to supporters of the far right than on making society a better place for the most marginalized groups. Resigning from their fundamental values, they have put the National Rally in position to dictate the national debate.
The latest furor seems to be over the official anthem of the national men’s soccer team. When an animated video showed the anthem for the upcoming European Football Championship by the rapper Youssoupha (who has vehemently criticized the far right in previous songs), Bardella immediately reacted, saying that it was “giving in to a thug part of France.” As usual, much of the media decided to transform that comment into a debate and question Youssoupha’s legitimacy to rap for his country. Despite the support of the Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu, it took less than a week for Noël Le Graët, the president of the French Football Federation and former socialist mayor of the city of Guingamp, to say that they should not have made the clip. Le Graët thus missed an opportunity to show that it is not up the far right to set the public agenda.
Ultimately, the parties who pretend to fight the far right’s heinous ideas will not gain votes by trying to align themselves with rhetoric that has nothing in common with the principles of equality they have historically stood for. As Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front (the former name of the National Rally) has predicted for decades, voters will always “prefer the original to the copy.”