The laws that are passed or proposed by the Hollande government mainly serve to disturb and further divide the population. Recent proposals are examples of one of the government’s main preoccupations, which is to fight religion, especially Islam (and there the government hopes to be popular with anti-Moslem feeling in France), but also Catholicism, since Catholics oppose same sex marriage, assisted procreation for same sex couples, surrogate motherhood, assisted suicide etc, all measures which are its bread and butter.
The law of 2004 forbidding pupils from wearing anything which shows they belong to a religion applied so far only to the public sector. Three years ago a new law was proposed for the private sector which receives state subsidies, and it will be revived and discussed in May. It concerns young children being looked after in the private sector, and demands that individuals (child minders) or institutions (crèches, nurseries, but also holiday centres and scout groups) refrain from showing any sign of religion affiliation.
The Conference of French Bishops (for Catholics), the Conseil Supérieur du Culte Musulman (CFCM) (for Muslims), and the Federation of Scout Organisations all protested against this proposal. The proposal is not clear, it seems to apply to infants, but it also mentions ‘ youth establishments open to minors’, which if taken at face value would include Catholic schools, which are ‘private’ but receive State subsidies in exchange for following the national curriculum and charge token fees.
Hollande made clear what he thinks of religion in his speech of 27th January, when he extolled France’s tolerance of opinions, “even” of religious ones, as if it required a special effort to tolerate religious opinions.
The government contains ministers who actively hate religion as such, or so it would appear from their behaviour; they indulge this pet hate under cover of popular feeling against Muslims, and with the support of the old left who think anti-clericalism is part of the good fight. All they succeed in doing is increasing divisions among the French, and making the situation of Muslims, and relationships between different citizens, ever more difficult.
Newspapers and magazines, encouraged by the speech by Hollande mentioned above, published the names of sites deemed dangerous. They even called for their readers to suggest names of deviant sites (deviant meaning wrong thinking)! It turns out many of the sites whose names were published are simply pro-Russian, for example the site ‘histoire et société’ run by a Jewish communist who publishes articles about Russia and Ukraine. The funny thing is that the magazine Marianne and the paper Libération, both supposedly left wing, published these lists, although Libération got a strong negative reaction from its readers.
How did Hollande manage to persuade these so-called leftwingers to participate enthusiastically in these denunciations? Easy. Here is the reasoning: the Holocaust started with conspiracy theories. So conspiracy theories lead to the genocide of Jews. So all websites which don’t convey the official truth risk causing the genocide of Jews.
Hollande explained this, at the Shoah Memorial on January 27, 2015:
“The third response [against anti-semitism] is the realization that conspiracy theories are broadcast on the internet and on social media networks. And we must remember that it is words that have in the past prepared extermination. We need to act at the European level, and even internationally, so that a legal framework can be defined, and so that Internet platforms that manage social networks are held to account and that sanctions be imposed for failure to enforce”
(La troisième réponse, c’est de prendre conscience que les thèses complotistes prennent leur diffusion par Internet et les réseaux sociaux. Or, nous devons nous souvenir que c’est d’abord par le verbe que s’est préparée l’extermination. Nous devons agir au niveau européen, et même international, pour qu’un cadre juridique puisse être défini, et que les plateformes Internet qui gèrent les réseaux sociaux soient mises devant leurs responsabilités, et que des sanctions soient prononcées en cas de manquement.)
The second weapon was education; the Holocaust is taught three times during a child’s schooling, the first time at the impressionable age of 10.
At the end of his speech, Hollande said:
[En France] “nul ne peut être inquiété pour ses opinions, même religieuses, et la libre communication des pensées et des opinions est un des droits les plus précieux de l’homme.”
[In France] “No one can be attacked for his opinions, even (sic) religious opinions, and the free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of human rights.”
It’s one of the most precious of human rights, but sometimes it has to be sacrificed. Hollande on 27 January called for a legal framework against internet communications. The prime minister Valls then presented a new law to the Council of Ministers on 19 March, a proposal that would commit all internet providers to keep data about individuals’ use of sites that fulfil certain criteria, to prevent jihadist type terrorist attacks and to identify potential terrorists. However, two other fields are included for surveillance in this same text: “prevention of collective violence” (demonstrations? strikes?) and “defence of the interests of foreign policy” (criticizing French foreign policy?). This would explain the inclusion of pro-Russian sites among those suggested for surveillance.
The connection with the Holocaust is more tenuous here. Wanting to make an ally of Russia instead of an enemy is not going to increase anti-Semitism. On the other hand, it will displease the United States and its allies, and its allies include Israel. Is that the connection?
France used to protect its citizens against government intrusion.
A government body overseeing privacy does exist, to deal with intolerable use of private data, and it is very critical of this proposed law; as it happens, it will not be allowed to oversee this particular surveillance, and a new supervisory body will be created instead.
The Minister for the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, ordered internet service providers to block 5 sites, suspected of links with terrorism; a 2014 law permits this to be done without a court order. Cazeneuve said: “I make a distinction between freedom of expression and the spread of messages that serve to glorify terrorism. These hate messages are a crime.” Internet service providers were given 24 hours to comply. It seems as if pro-Russian sites might become criminal eventually, if the Valls law is adopted and taken literally.
Last year at this time voters elected mayors and municipal councils. It was the first time that an equal number of men and women candidates was obligatory. To stand for local election you have to present a list of people who will form the municipal Council if elected; the Municipal Council will vote for the Mayor, usually the first person named on the list. Electors vote for a list, headed by a personality representing a party or coalition of parties. From 2014 all lists have to include 50% women; indeed you have to list men and women’s names alternately, one man, one woman etc.
In a municipal council, there are important and unimportant posts. The mayor is most often a man, and the important posts, finance in particular, occupied by men. Martine Aubry is by all accounts a very good mayor of Lille; fewer than 14 % of the 36,769 mayors in France are women. This year elections to the ‘regional councils’ are taking place; the regional council runs the ‘département’, of which there are 98 in mainland France. Here again, the rule applies: one man, one woman figure alternately on the lists. From less than 20% of women councilors, we will have 50%. This does not mean that women have suddenly acquired a desire to be involved in practical politics.
Forcing people to stand for election when they don’t want to seems a peculiar thing to do.
Elections are interesting for people if the result makes a difference. The National Front is guaranteed to make headlines, because of its aura of nastiness. For the municipal elections it made headlines, but achieved very little. 9754 Mayors were elected (as head of lists, not personally) in towns of over 1000 inhabitants. Judging from media coverage, the National Front should have won hundreds of seats. In fact, the National Front ended up with 12 Mayors. In the European elections the National Front scored 25% of votes.
This year, the score is similar to the European elections in the first round of regional elections, which is new. The party had only one regional councillor up to now; it stands to gain perhaps a hundred, since it is present in the second round in half of places (they are contesting about 1000 seats); Nicolas Sarkozy, the head of the UMP, the main right wing party, is not calling for an agreement when the three main parties are present as possible candidates for the second round, even if it would ensure the defeat of the National Front. When the UMP still stands in places where the socialists might win, the vote will be divided and the National Front can win.
The National Front is useful as a device to keep people interested in politics. The political class runs the risk of being overtaken by this new force which it had sought to utilize for its own purposes.