Rights groups take French racial profiling case to top body

Of note:

After months of government silence, leading rights organizations and grassroots groups took France’s first class-action lawsuit targeting the nation’s powerful police machine to the highest administrative authority Thursday, to fix what they contend is a culture of systemic discrimination in identity checks.

The 220-page file, chock full of examples of racial profiling by French police, was being delivered Thursday to the Council of State, the ultimate arbiter on the use of power by authorities. It was compiled by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Justice Initiative and three grassroots organizations that work with youth.

The NGOs allege that French police target Black people and people of Arab descent in choosing who to stop and check. Police officers who corroborate such accounts are among people cited in the file.

The groups behind the lawsuit contend the practice is rooted in a culture of systemic discrimination within the police with far-reaching consequences for people of .

“It’s a humiliating experience. You’re in the street, you’re frisked, patted down and questioned in front of everyone,” said Issa Coulibaly, head of Pazapas, a youth association in eastern Paris involved in the suit.

Instead of money for victims, the suit seeks deep reforms within law enforcement to ensure an end to racial profiling, including a change in a penal code that currently gives officers carte blanche to check IDs — with no trace that they have done so. Among other things, they also want an independent mechanism to lodge complaints and training for police officers.

The groups took the case to the Council of State after the government failed to meet a four-month deadline to respond to the opening salvo in the class-action suit.

The prime minister’s office and the justice and interior ministries were initially served notice of the suit in late January — the first step in a two-stage process in a French class-action case. The law gave them four months to open talks with the NGOs on how to meet their demands for change within the police, before the matter could go before a court.

Those who brought the action contend it is in the interest of authorities, including law enforcement, to improve the notoriously poor relationship between police and youth in some .

Antoine Lyon-Caen, the lead lawyer in the case, said it is the first time a class-action suit against the French state is going before the Council of State. He called the government silence “humiliating” for racial profiling victims.

“Lots of people suffer from these practices and the government didn’t even feel a need to say something,” he said in an interview.

Coulibaly said the official silence is in keeping with “institutional denial” of the problem. But he said this next legal step is a new dose of hope for change.

Children as young as 10 can be checked if they are Black or perceived as of Arab descent, said Coulibaly, a 41-year-old Black man who said he was subjected to numerous undue ID checks starting at the age of 14.

“It’s a reality for all working class and a reality for the poor and where there are people of immigrant origin,” he said.

French courts have found the state guilty of racial profiling in identity checks in the past, most recently in June when a Paris appeals court ruled that discrimination was behind police ID checks on three high school students of at a train station in 2017. The court convicted the French state of a “grave fault” and ordered reparations paid.

“The ID check is really the door for lots of things that can be very destructive in the life of a person,” Coulibaly said. “It can degenerate. After a 50th check in your life, the 10th in a week or the third check in a day, especially when you’re young, you have a tendency to react, to react badly.”

The Council of State has the power to order the French state to end such practices and make the requested changes, Lyon-Caen said. The law requires a decision in a “reasonable” time, but that could be a year or more, he said, noting that the unprecedent case takes the Council of State into uncharted territory.

Source: Rights groups take French racial profiling case to top body

Anger as French protesters compare vaccines to Nazi horrors

Outrageous but unfortunately all too typical of the more extreme anti-vaxxers:

A French Holocaust survivor has denounced anti-vaccination protesters comparing themselves to Jews who were persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II. French officials and anti-racism groups joined the 94-year-old in expressing indignation.

As more than 100,000 people marched around France against government vaccine rules on Saturday, some demonstrators wore yellow stars recalling the ones the Nazis forced Jews to wear. Other demonstrators carried signs evoking the Auschwitz death camp or South Africa’s apartheid regime, claiming the French government was unfairly mistreating them with its anti-pandemic measures.

“You can’t imagine how much that upset me. This comparison is hateful. We must all rise up against this ignominy,” Holocaust survivor Joseph Szwarc said Sunday during a ceremony commemorating victims of antisemitic and racist acts by the French state, which collaborated with Adolf Hitler’s regime.

“I wore the star, I know what that is, I still have it in my flesh,” Szwarc, who was deported from France by the Nazis, said with tears in his eyes. “It is everyone’s duty to not allow this outrageous, antisemitic, racist wave to pass over us.”

France’s secretary of state for military affairs, who also attended the ceremony, called the protesters’ actions “intolerable and a disgrace for our republic.”

The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism said the protesters were “mocking victims of the Holocaust” and minimizing crimes against humanity committed during World War II.

Saturday’s protests involved a mix of people angry at the government for various reasons, and notably supporters of the far right. Prominent French far-right figures have been convicted in the past of antisemitism, racism and denying the Holocaust.

The government is introducing a bill Monday requiring all health care workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and requiring COVID passes to enter restaurants and other venues.

At a large protest in Paris on Saturday against vaccine rules, one demonstrator pasted a star on his back reading “not vaccinated.” Bruno Auquier, a 53-year-old town councilor who lives on the outskirts of Paris, drew a yellow star on his T-shirt and handed out arm bands with the star.

“I will never get vaccinated,” Auquier said. “People need to wake up,” he said, questioning the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

Auquier expressed concern that the new measures would restrict his two children’s freedom and pledged to take them out of school if vaccination becomes mandatory.

Polls suggest most French people support the measures, but they have prompted anger in some quarters. Vandals targeted two vaccination centers in southwest France over the weekend. One was set on fire, and another covered in graffiti, including a reference to the Nazi occupation of France.

France has reported more than 111,000 deaths in the pandemic, and new confirmed cases are increasing again, raising worries about renewed pressure on hospitals and further restrictions that would damage jobs and businesses.

Source: Anger as French protesters compare vaccines to Nazi horrors

A French Teenager’s Anti-Islam Rant Unleashed Death Threats. Now 13 Are on Trial.

No excuse for death threats, words have consequences:

The French girl, 16, was sharing highly personal details about her life in a livestream on Instagram, including her attraction to women. Just not Black or Arab women, she said.

When insults and death threats started pouring in to her Instagram account in response to her comments in January 2020, some from viewers saying she was an affront to Islam, the teenager, Mila, dug in, quickly posting another video.

“I hate religion,” she declared. “The Quran is a religion of hatred.” She also used profanity to describe Islam and the crudest of imagery in referring to God.

The ensuing onslaught of threats after the video went viral has landed 13 people in court on charges of online harassment.

The case has put a spotlight on the roiling French debate over freedom of expression and blasphemy, especially when it touches on Islam. It is also a landmark test for recent legislation that broadens France’s definition of cyberharassment in regards to attacks on the internet, where vitriol is plentiful, modulated debate less so.

“We are setting the rules of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable,” Michaël Humbert, the presiding judge, said at the trial.

Some looked to history to capture the brutality of what Mila experienced online. Mila’s lawyer said she had been subjected to a digital stoning. The prosecutor in the case spoke of a “lynching 2.0.”

More than a year after Mila — The New York Times is withholding her last name because she has been the subject of harassment — posted her videos, her life remains in a tumult. She lives under police protection and she no longer attends school in person.

The 13 defendants, some teenagers themselves, are on trial in Paris, most accused of making death threats. They face the possibility of jail. The verdict is expected Wednesday.

In France’s Military, Muslims Find a Tolerance That Is Elusive Elsewhere

Of note, a rare success story of integration in France:

Gathered in a small mosque on a French military base in southern Lebanon, six soldiers in uniform stood with their heads bowed as their imam led them in prayer next to a white wall with framed paintings of Quranic verses.

After praying together on a recent Friday, the French soldiers — five men and one woman — returned to their duties on the base, where they had recently celebrated Ramadan, sometimes breaking their fast with Christians. Back home in France, where Islam and its place in society form the fault lines of an increasingly fractured nation, practicing their religion was never this easy, they said.

“The tolerance that we find in the armed forces, we don’t find it outside,” said Second Master Anouar, 31, who enlisted 10 years ago and who, in keeping with French military rules, could be identified only by his first name.

For the past two decades, as France’s Muslim population has sought a greater role in the nation, officials have often tried to restrict Islam’s public presence under an increasingly strict interpretation of French secularism, known as laïcité.

law aimed at the Muslim veil in 2004 banned the wearing of religious symbols in public schools, and prompted years of anguished debates over France’s treatment of its Muslim population, Europe’s largest. A new law against Islamism by President Emmanuel Macron is expected to strengthen government control over existing mosques and make it harder to build new ones.

But one major institution has gone in the opposite direction: the military.

The armed forces have carved out a place for Islam equal to France’s more established faiths — by hewing to a more liberal interpretation of laïcité. Imams became chaplains in 2005. Mosques have been built on bases in France and across the world, including in Deir Kifa, where some 700 French soldiers help a United Nations force keep peace in southern Lebanon. Halal rations are on offer. Muslim holidays are recognized. Work schedules are adjusted to allow Muslim soldiers to attend Friday Prayer.

The military is one of the institutions that has most successfully integrated Muslims, military officials and outside experts said, adding that it can serve as a model for the rest of France. Some drew parallels to the United States Army, which was ahead of the rest of American society in integrating Black Americans.

In a country where religious expression in government settings is banned — and where public manifestations of Islam are often described as threats to France’s unity, especially after a series of Islamist attacks since 2015 — the uncontested place of Islam in the military can be hard to fathom.

“My father, when I told him there was a Muslim chaplain, didn’t believe me,” said Corporal Lyllia, 22, who attended Friday Prayer wearing a veil.

“He asked me three times if I was sure,” she added. “He thought that a chaplain was necessarily Catholic or Protestant.”

Sergeant Azhar, 29, said he grew up facing discrimination as a Muslim and difficulty practicing his religion when he worked in a restaurant before joining the military. In the army, he said, he could practice his religion without being held in suspicion. Forced to live together, French of all backgrounds know more of one another than in the rest of society, he said.

“In an army, you have all religions, all colors, all origins,” he said. “So that allows for an open-mindedness you don’t find in civilian life.”

At the heart of the matter is laïcité, which separates church and state, and has long served as the bedrock of France’s political system. Enshrined in a 1905 law, laïcité guarantees the equality of all faiths.

But over the years, as Islam became France’s second biggest religion after Roman Catholicism, laïcité has increasingly been interpreted as guaranteeing the absence of religion in public space — so much so that the topic of personal faith is a taboo in the country.

Philippe Portier, a leading historian on laïcité, said there was a tendency in France “to tone down religion in all spheres of social encounter,” especially as officials advocate a stricter interpretation of laïcité to combat Islamism.

By contrast, the military increasingly views religion as essential to its own management, he said.

“Diversity is accepted because diversity will come to form the basis of cohesion,” he said, adding that, contrary to the thinking in many French institutions, the underlying rationale in the military was that “there can’t be cohesion if, at the same time, you don’t make compromises with the beliefs of individuals.”

Military officials said they had been sheltered from the politicization of laïcité that occurs in the rest of society.

“The right approach is to consider laïcité as a principle and not as an ideology,” said Jean-Jacques, the Muslim chaplain in Deir Kifa. When it becomes an ideology, he added, it “inevitably creates inequalities.”

The Rev. Carmine, the Protestant chaplain on the base, said that the army was proof that laïcité works as long as it is not manipulated. “Why do we talk so much about laïcité in recent years in France?” he said. “It’s often to create problems.”

A 2019 French Defense Ministry report on laïcité in the military concluded that freedom of religious expression does not undermine the army’s social cohesion or performance. In contrast to how laïcité has been carried out elsewhere in society, the report promotes “a peaceful laïcité” that can “continue adapting itself to the country’s social realities.”

“The liberal model of laïcité that the military embodies is a laïcité of intelligence, a laïcité of fine-tuning,” said Eric Germain, an adviser on military ethics and religious issues at the ministry, who oversaw the report.

Mr. Germain said the military has been faithful to the 1905 law, which states that to safeguard freedom of worship, chaplaincy services are legitimate in certain enclosed public places, like prisons, hospitals and military facilities. The state has a moral responsibility to provide professionalized religious support to its military, he added.

The integration of Muslims into the military mirrored France’s long and complicated relationship with the Islamic world.

Muslim men from France’s colonial empire served as soldiers as far back as the 1840s, said Elyamine Settoul, an expert on Muslims and the French military at the Paris-based National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. Early last century, there were fitful attempts to cater to Muslim soldiers’ religious needs, including the appointment of a Muslim chaplain, though for only three years, Mr. Settoul said. After World War II, the independence movement in France’s colonies, coupled with a general mistrust of Islam, put the efforts on hold.

The issue could no longer be ignored in the 1990s, as the end of mandatory military service was announced in 1996, and as the military began huge recruitment efforts in working-class areas. Children of Muslim immigrants from former French colonies became overrepresented, and now Muslims are believed to account for 15 to 20 percent of troops, or two to three times the Muslim share of the total French population.

Unequal treatment of Muslim cohorts fueled “a discourse of victimization in the ranks” and a recourse to identity politics, Mr. Settoul said. The lack of alternatives to meals with pork, which are forbidden in Islam, created “tensions and divides” and even led to fights, he said.

Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplains had formally served in the French military since the 1880s. But a century later, there were still no Muslim chaplains to cater to the needs of frontline soldiers, who often had to turn to Catholic chaplains.

1990 report commissioned by the Defense Ministry highlighted the risks of internal divisions unless the army gave equal treatment to its Muslim soldiers.

Despite what Mr. Settoul described as a lingering suspicion of Islam, the military incorporated Muslim chaplains in 2005 — around the same time that other parts of French society went the other way, banning the Muslim veil and other religious symbols in public schools. That began a process of integrating Muslims ahead of “the rest of society,” Mr. Settoul said.

In 2019, there were 36 active-duty imams, or about 17 percent of all chaplains. There were also 125 Catholic priests, 34 Protestant pastors and 14 rabbis.

The soldiers at Friday Prayer, ranging from their early 20s to their early 40s, were all children of immigrants. They grew up listening to their parents or grandparents talk of praying in makeshift premises before mosques were built in their cities. Some had mothers or other female relatives who still faced suspicion because they wore veils.

Sergeant Mohamed, 41, enlisted two decades ago, a couple of years before the first Muslim chaplains. He recalled how it had become easier to fully practice his religion in the army. While Muslim soldiers had been given large rooms to gather in and pray, they now had access to mosques.

In the army, Sgt. Mohamed said he could take a paid day off on Eid al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan.

“My father worked for 35 years, and every boss deducted eight hours of work,” he said, adding that his father, who immigrated from Algeria four decades ago, never imagined that his children would be able to practice their religion in the army. “In 40 years, there’s been amazing progress after all.”

Perhaps more than anything, the integration of Islam amounted to a recognition of his place in the army, Sgt. Mohamed said.

“The fuel of the soldier is recognition,” he said. “And when there is recognition of our faith, it’s as though you’re filling up our tanks.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/26/world/europe/in-frances-military-muslims-find-a-tolerance-that-is-elusive-elsewhere.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage

Who Gets to Wear a Headscarf? The Complicated History Behind France’s Latest Hijab Controversy

Of note:

The head of French President Emmanuel Macron’s political party withdrew support late last week for one of the party’s own candidates, Sarah Zemmahi, after she wore a headscarf in a campaign poster.

Stanislas Guerini, one of the co-founders of Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move party (LREM), took to Twitter to critique Zemmahi, an engineer who is running for her local council, for wearing her hijab, a religious head covering worn by some Muslim women, in a promotional image.

“Wearing ostentatious religious symbols on a campaign document is not compatible with the values of LREM,” Guerini wrote, after a prominent far-right politician shared the photo. “Either these candidates change their photo, or LREM will withdraw its support.”

While Zemmahi has not yet responded to Guerini’s statements, he received pushback from others in the party. LREM lawmaker Naima Moutchou defended Zemmahi on Twitter, calling Guerini’s criticism “discrimination,” while fellow LREM politician Caroline Janvier called out Guerini’s response in a scathing tweet.

“Undignified. Running after (far-right) votes will only allow their ideas to prevail. Enough is enough,” she wrote.

The conflict over one woman’s choice to cover her head comes in the wake of controversy surrounding an amendment passed by the French Senate last month that would ban girls under 18 from wearing the hijab in public. As part of a proposed “anti-separatism” bill, it was presented alongside amendments that would also prevent mothers from wearing hijabs on their children’s school trips and would ban the “burkini,” a full-body swimsuit.

While some French politicians have defended the amendment as a reinforcement of the country’s adherence to secularism, others have slammed it as yet another instance of part of an ugly strain of Islamophobia in the nation, which is home to the largest Muslim population in Western Europe—a population that has experienced increased discrimination in recent years, in the wake of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in recent years and the rise of far-right politics. One 2019 report found that 44.6% of the country considered Muslims a threat to French national identity, while a government survey from the same year listed that 42% of Muslims (other studies put the figure at 58%) reported experiencing discrimination due to their religion, a number that increased to 60% for women who wore a headscarf.

But understanding why the hijab is the site of so much controversy in France also requires understanding the deep history behind the debate.

While the proposed legislation still needs to be approved by the lower house of French Parliament before it can become a law, it’s already drawn significant backlash from many Muslim women around the world, who see the law as not only xenophobic and discriminatory, but an attack on their agency—a sentiment that has grown over the years as French politicians have argued that laws restricting religious symbolism are in service of women’s empowerment and public safety.On social media, the hashtag #HandsOffMyHijab has become a rallying cry to protest the amendment, started by Somali-Norwegian model Rawdah Mohamed, who used the phrase in a now-viral Instagram post to call out the potential ban. It’s since garnered support from the likes of U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

“How can you have a discussion about my identity, and not include me?” Mohamed told TIME. “I don’t think politicians are the ones who are supposed to define what it means to be a Muslim woman.”

France’s history with headscarves

Scholars trace France’s focus on Muslim head coverings and the women who wear them back to the country’s imperial past in North Africa and the Middle East—particularly in Algeria.

“Banning the hijab is about colonialism,” Alia Al-Saji, an associate professor of philosophy at McGill University, tells TIME. “French colonization of Muslim countries was often about controlling and managing populations that were of diverse religions… The hijab is a way of clearly showing that you are Muslim, which is colonially constructed as being opposed to colonialism. But it’s also a site of potential resistance.”

French colonization in Algeria began with an invasion in 1830 and was characterized by violent genocide, settler colonialism and a series of shifting laws called the “indigénat,” which, among other things, determined who could be a French citizen. Al-Saji notes that these laws were influential in emphasizing difference for the Muslim majority in Algeria; for example, while Jewish Algerian natives were recognized as French citizens in 1870 with the Cremieux Decree, Muslim Algerian natives were not eligible for French citizenship unless they renounced their religion and culture and adopted a French identity.

Inherent in the colonial attitude is the belief that one’s “civilization”—its language, its values and its practices—is an improvement on the lives of those who are colonized. This belief manifested itself drastically in the attitude toward Algerian Muslim women, who were seen as both oppressed and exotic. Under this mindset, their “liberation” could become the moral justification for imperialism’s violent casualties.

This dynamic is perhaps best illustrated during the Algerian War of Independence, when a series of public unveiling ceremonies were organized in 1958. During these ceremonies, many of which were arranged by the French army, Algerian women removed their haiks (traditional wraps worn by North African women) or had them removed by European women, before throwing them to the ground or burning them. Often, speeches were given afterwards in support of the French and the emancipation of Muslim women.

While these highly-publicized ceremonies were framed as spaces of empowerment for Muslim women, other accounts of this history tell a different story. In his book, Burning the Veil: The Algerian War and the ‘Emancipation’ of Muslim Women, 1954-1962, Neil MacMaster notes that some of the women who took part in these ceremonies were very poor, recruited from high schools or, in some cases, pressured to participate with threats to their safety and that of their families. In one harrowing case, when the army could not find a Muslim woman to lead the ceremony, they enlisted Monique Améziane, a young woman from a wealthy and pro-French family who had not previously worn a veil or heik, to speak—in exchange for sparing the life of her brother, whom they had already arrested and tortured.

The symbolic power of the veil during this time, however, was not only recognized by the French, but also by those fighting for Algerian liberation. In his essay Algeria Unveiled, Frantz Fanon makes the case that the veil can be a tool of anti-colonial resistance and a way of limiting access to oppressors, going so far as to call it a “bone of contention in a grandiose battle.”

During the war, the veil also became a literal tool of resistance. Some female freedom fighters for the National Liberation Front used haiks to conceal weapons and classified information; after this tactic was discovered, they used unveiling to their advantage, adopting European dress as a way to fly under the radar of the French.

How the veil has been reclaimed—and weaponized

Within France, at the intersection of gender, ethnic and religious identities, the Muslim veil or head covering took on new significance in the 20th century. Because of the popularity of orientalist art during this time, the veil already had stereotypes of the foreign and forbidden. But veiling was no longer just a physical marker of religious or cultural difference—it was also seen as an affront to assimilation, a visible symbol of resistance to colonization.

This meaning was intensified by the state’s staunch espousal of a unified French cultural and social identity, in opposition to multiculturalism. This belief can be traced all the way back to the French Revolution, which has also been credited with planting the seeds for laïcité, France’s principle of secularism. Although laïcitéoriginated in a 1905 law about the separation of church and state, it has been used in recent years as the driving force behind the anti-hijab policies.

In 2004, Muslim headscarves were among the array of religious symbols banned from being worn in French public schools. And in 2010, the country prohibited full-face veils like niqabs in public spaces like streets, parks and public transportation, becoming the first European country to enforce a nation-wide ban and even launching a government campaign that proudly stated, “the Republic is lived with an uncovered face.”

This sentiment took on a new irony at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 when France mandated mask-wearing in public spaces, while still banning Muslim face coverings.

“Muslim women who wear the hijab have always been on the receiving end of Islamophobia for their visible identity,” Nazma Khan, the founder of World Hijab Day, told TIME. “Simply put, the proposed hijab ban is a systematic vilification and discrimination against Muslim women in hijab.”

The Collective against Islamophobia in France, a non-profit that was forced by the French government to dissolve in 2020 in a move that Human Rights Watch called a “threat to basic human rights and liberties,” reported in 2019 that 70% of Islamophobic hate speech and acts in France were directed at women.

To advocates, the intense focus on a physical marker of otherness, along with the rhetoric touting women’s empowerment, can distract from what’s really at stake: what they see as France’s attempt to control citizens, as territorial residents were controlled in the past.

“If it was about giving Muslim women more agency, then in that case, you could let them or let all women wear whatever they wanted,” says Al-Saji. “But It’s actually about controlling what women wear and how they appear and what gets seen and that their bodies are seen, this kind of colonial male desire, that constructs Muslim women as trapped and pawns of their culture and needing to be unveiled.”

Source: Who Gets to Wear a Headscarf? The Complicated History Behind France’s Latest Hijab Controversy

Paris court tries anti-racism activist for statue attack

Of note. All societies and cultures have to face their histories, but in a manner that educates and improves understanding of their context and not simply dismisses historical figures without considering the times and their other contributions, good and bad:

A French activist for Black rights went on trial in Paris on Monday for defacing a statue of a historical figure from France’s colonial, slave-trading past, calling the protest a political act to denounce deep-seated racism.

Franco Lollia was on trial for spraying “state Negrophobia” in red paint on the pedestal of a statue outside parliament in Paris last June. The statue Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a 17th-century royal minister who wrote rules governing slaves in France’s overseas colonies.

Lollia told the court that, in his view, Colbert committed crimes against humanity. He said celebrating Colbert with a statue outside the National Assembly shows that the French state “is viscerally Negrophobic even today” and that the statue’s presence is “spitting in the face of all people who look like me.”

Lollia, who is Black, called the trial “an insult.”

“I am sad to see that history seems to be repeating itself and our voices are still not heard,” he said. “I am really disappointed that the justice system is still so blind.”

The trial coincided with France’s annual commemoration of the abolition of slavery. Lollia noted that the day isn’t marked with a national holiday, dismissing it as “a bone for a dog” that fails to adequately commemorate the horrors inflicted on millions of slaves.

The sweat-top and face mask that Lollia wore to the trial both had the words “Anti-Negrophobia Brigade” printed on them. Other words on the back of his T-shirt said “Negrophobia” is a “weapon of mass destruction that doesn’t admit its name” and exhorted: “Let’s arm ourselves to the hilt to fight it.”

The judge said video footage of the graffiti attack showed him hurling paint at the statue and spray-painting its base.

“It was a political act,” Lollia said.

The charge of defacing property is punishable by a fine or community service.

Lollia’s team argued that he acted in self-. His attorney Georges-Emmanuel Germany said the judge should consider France’s past as “a criminal state” in weighing Lollia’s act.

“You are not only the judge of the accused,” the attorney said. “You are also the judge of the of the victim” — meaning the French state.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Lollia said France’s colonial past is still feeding racial discrimination.

“Colbert is a major figure of this colonial past, this past where Black people were not recognized as human beings,” he said.

“The system itself is Negrophobic from the moment it doesn’t put into question the history,” he said. “France is capable of healing from its Negrophobia and from its state racism in general, but the French state must learn to face its history, and not only part of the history it likes.”

Source: Paris court tries anti-racism activist for statue attack

France grants citizenship to over 2,000 foreign workers for Covid-19 response

Faster than Canadian and Quebec programs to regularize the “anges guardians:”

Marlene Schiappa, junior interior minister in charge of citizenship, said that 2,009 people, including 665 minors, had been fast-tracked for naturalisation for “showing their attachment to the nation”.

Schiappa had instructed the authorities in September to speed up the citizenship applications of essential workers who had “actively contributed” to the fight against Covid-19.

She had ordered that they be allowed to apply for citizenship after just two years in France, instead of the usual requirement of five years.

Those involved include health workers, security guards, checkout workers, garbage collectors, home-care providers and nannies.

Over 8,000 people have applied for citizenship under the scheme, Schiappa’s office said, adding that all requests were being given “the greatest consideration”.

In 2020, 61,371 people acquired French citizenship, a decline of 20 percent compared with 2019.

Source: France grants citizenship to over 2,000 foreign workers for Covid-19 response

Sarah Halimi: How killer on drugs escaped French trial for anti-Semitic murder

Good overview:

Sarah Halimi was a Jewish, 65-year-old, former kindergarten director, who in April 2017 was beaten, then thrown to her death from her flat in north-east Paris.

The killer was Kobili Traoré, a Muslim of Malian origin who was her neighbour. During the attack, which lasted between 20 and 30 minutes, he chanted verses from the Koran and shouted “Allahu Akbar” – God is greatest.

Loss of control

Two weeks ago, a decision by France’s highest court of appeal, the Cour de Cassation, triggered a storm of indignation, primarily but not solely in France’s Jewish community. Citing Article 122 of the Penal Code, the judges ruled that Traoré had been undergoing a “psychotic episode” at the time of the attack and that his “discernment” had been “abolished”.

The fact that this loss of control was linked to his voluntary smoking of cannabis over many years was, said the court, irrelevant. The root cause of a madness was not an issue in law, the judges said, as long as the madness was established; and it had been, by independent psychiatric analysis.

And so the Cour de Cassation ruled that Kobili Traoré should not stand trial, but remain in the secure hospital where he has been kept ever since the murder.

A dangerous precedent

A week ago thousands protested against the decision in Paris and other cities. There is both reason and emotion behind their fury.

The most obvious argument against the ruling is that it creates a dangerous precedent. As more than one lawyer has pointed out, what now is there to stop other killers from claiming an “abolition of discernment” due to long-term drug or alcohol use?

This is all the more relevant because of the prevalence of cannabis abuse among so many of those found guilty, not just of crimes designated as “anti-Semitic”, such as this one, but also of those designated as “terrorist”.

“Don’t ask me to explain the inexplicable,” said lawyer Aude Weill Raynal. “In most cases, taking drugs is an aggravating factor in a case – and yet here it is regarded as extenuating.”

‘In France we do not judge the mad’

It is true, of course, that in most cases the fact that a killer has taken drugs or drunk alcohol will not stop him or her going to trial – even if there is established a temporary loss of reason – and may even contribute to a stiffer sentence.

But the difference in the Traoré case is expert opinion. Of the three psychiatrists’ reports, two concluded that his discernment was not just “altered” (as it would be if he had just smoked a joint or got drunk) but outright “abolished”.

This was because of the permanent damage to his brain caused by more than 10 years of drug abuse. On the night in question, said the majority of the experts, he was in the grip of a full-scale psychotic attack in which he feared he was being chased by demons.

“The crime was the crime of a madman,” they said in a long justificatory piece this week in Le Monde. “And in France we do not judge the mad.”

But this leads to the second of the arguments against the ruling, which centres on the role of experts in the courts.

Writing in conservative newspaper Le Figaro, philosopher and former minister Luc Ferry said it was a “joke” to regard psychiatry as a “science” on which to base supposedly neutral decisions in law.

“The psychiatrists disagreed among themselves,” he wrote, “one of their reports speaking of ‘alteration’ of discernment, and the other two of ‘abolition.'”

Deciding to take drugs and then “going mad” shouldn’t, in my view, remove your criminal responsibility. I would like the justice minister to present a change in the law very fast
Emmanuel Macron
French President
Jack Broda, a judge from Nancy who has resigned in disgust over the Halimi ruling, said magistrates running the investigation accorded too much importance to psychiatry.
“When you call for an expert opinion, it’s not to nod blindly in agreement with the findings. You need to look at all sides, which can only be done in a trial. Justice is not the work of experts,” he said.

But the deepest source of anger is a feeling shared by many Jews that the court’s ruling was preordained. They believe that from the start the investigation failed to address the attack’s true nature – which for them was both anti-Semitic and, if not planned, then certainly springing naturally from Traoré’s known cultural and religious prejudices.

Changing the law

In the end the Cour de Cassation upheld the designation of the murder as “anti-Semitic”, but many campaigners felt it as a sop to allay their anger over the lack of a trial. Others question how a killing can be at the same time officially anti-Semitic – which implies intention – yet also be the work of a man who has lost his reason.

Underlying all these arguments is an assumption: that parts of the French justice system have a left-wing bias that pushes them to take the side of the poor, black Muslim, and downplays the crime against a Jew.

Which is, of course, fiercely disputed.

So, to go back to the original question: yes, in France a killer can be declared legally insane even if the drugs that destroyed his judgment were taken voluntarily. Why? Because the law says so.

If you want to change the judgement, change the law – which is precisely what the French government is now trying to do.

Too late, though, for the family of Sarah Halimi.

Source: Sarah Halimi: How killer on drugs escaped French trial for anti-Semitic murder

Wells: Emmanuel Macron, l’ENA, and the old weird France

Interesting take by Paul Wells:

We haven’t updated you on French President Emmanuel Macron in a while. It’s not going great. The next presidential election is a year away and polls suggest Macron could lose to Marine Le Pen, leader of the populist Ralliement National, the successor to her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National. The older Le Pen made it to the second round of presidential elections in 2002, the younger in 2017. Each time respectable opinion told French voters they must vote against Le Pen to save the Republic; both times voters did as they were told. The second time the result was Macron’s presidency. He can’t be sure it will work again. He’d become France’s third consecutive one-term president. His successor would open a can of worms. A belated sequel to Trump and Brexit.

Macron needs to get his mojo back. His choice of project is surprising. Last week he announced the closure of France’s École nationale d’administration, or ENA. It’s a graduate school for the bright young men and women who will form the senior ranks of France’s public service. Four of its graduates have become president. Nine have been prime minister. Countless others run government departments, city halls, banks, retail giants, museums. Because énarques (as ENA alumni are called) are so superbly adaptable—super-generalists, the Swiss army knives of the country’s management apparatus—they tend to flit from one job to another, with little apparent connection between positions except that each is the sort of job an énarque would have.

L’ENA is also the school Macron attended. The school that made his presidency possible, certainly the only thing that made his presidency possible. There’s drama in this assault on what made him. Something almost oedipal. It’s like when Ralph Klein had the Alberta hospital where he was born demolished. It’s as if Justin Trudeau had closed McGill University, or some ski lodge at Whistler, or whatever made him what he is today. Twenty-four Sussex? Actually, come to think of it, he has closed 24 Sussex. Hey, wait a minute…

But I digress. To an outsider, it’s hardly obvious why a stalled politician would close a fancy school. The answer hardly seems to match the question. The explanation lies in the distinctive place l’ENA occupies in the French cultural myth. As for why Macron would be the guy who’d decide to pull the trigger… well, therein lies a tale. For one thing, his reform project goes back quite literally to the day Macron graduated from the school 17 years ago.

This will take some telling. I’ve met a number of énarques. The school admits foreign students, so the odd Canadian gets in and graduates. French graduates sometimes find themselves posted to the stately French embassy on Sussex Drive, next door to 24. The current ambassador, Kareen Rispal, just won a prize for alumnae who dedicate themselves to advancing women’s rights. Énarques are, with no exception that I’ve met, cool, eloquent, poised in complex situations. Absolutely superb talkers, but not pushy. They know they’ll get their chance to shine. They always have. I once got invited to speak to alumni of the ENA and one of its main feeder schools, the Institut d’Etudes politiques de Paris, which I attended for a year on a lark ages ago. I’ve rarely been so nervous before a speaking gig.

To get into l’ENA, you have to pass a tough battery of written and oral exams on law, economics, public finances, current events, the European Union and more. Students typically study for a year at a prominent university simply to prepare for the exams. If you fail you’re free to try again the following year, but there is no other recourse or appeal. French higher education is bracingly unsentimental. One of Nicolas Sarkozy’s speechwriters famously failed the entry exam three times as a young man and has carried an epic grudge against the place ever since.

Students spend two school years at the school, divided between courses in Paris, courses at the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and work terms in government departments. At the end, another brutal round of exams. If you finish in the top 15 of a class of 100-odd, you get to pick your spot in the most prestigious departments in government. Finish much lower and you may wonder whether l’ENA was worth the trouble.

The point of it all is that social connections are no help. You can’t survive all these tough exams because you come from the right family or you have the right accent. L’ENA was founded in 1945 as France crawled from the rubble of occupation and liberation. The old French civil service was like old bureaucracies everywhere: file clerks, stenographers and power brokers who landed jobs for life because they knew someone or had a cousin return a favour. A prewar minister of education, Jean Zay, came up with plans for a school to replace all this cronyism and inertia with something more merit-based. An elite public-service corps, chosen by merit and trained with care. But after the Nazi invasion Zay was arrested by the collaborationist Vichy regime for resisting the occupation and for being a Jew. In 1944 he was murdered by the Nazi-collaborating militia. Soon after France’s liberation Charles de Gaulle put Maurice Thorez, the former French Communist Party leader who’d become the minister for the public service, in charge of implementing Zay’s plan.

Within a decade the énarques were key to a highly-planned postwar economy. By the ’60s there were signs of resentment. For all its egalitarian inspiration, the school had a knack for collecting and promoting cohorts that looked a lot like the same old hereditary leadership class. In France as anywhere else, money buys tutors, quiet study time, and connections that shape your life before the entrance exam even if they don’t play a direct role after. That sense of resentment, of a reform that had entrenched privilege instead of erasing it, deepened over time.

Each graduating class at l’ENA holds a party early on to select a name for their promotion, or graduating class. It’s an emblem of the solidarity that comes from shared stress. The class of 1949 was the Promotion Nations unies, after the United Nations. Later classes named themselves after writers (Tocqueville, Proust) or politicians (de Gaulle, the ’70s West German Chancellor Willy Brandt). Some promotions achieve legendary status. The promotion Voltaire, class of 1980, was legendary: it produced a president, François Hollande; a presidential candidate, Hollande’s longtime partner Ségolène Royal; and a prime minister, Dominique de Villepin.

But then along came Macron, who arrived in 2002 and graduated in 2004. There were already magazine articles about Macron’s class at l’ENA before anyone suspected he would be a presidential candidate. The charming kid from the northern city of Amiens didn’t particularly stand out in a class of rapid climbers who moved into key posts in government and business soon after they graduated in 2004. Here’s the piece in French Vanity Fair from 2014. Twenty members of the class of 2004 were already chiefs of staff or senior advisors to government ministers, it says. Others ran insurance companies or worked at the United Nations. “Their names aren’t known to the general public but they constitute what must be considered a rising power network. And there’s no reason to think they’ll stop there, when it’s all going so well.” Much of the material for my own article, the one you’re reading, comes from Les Jeunes Gens, a book that the Vanity Fair article’s author, Mathieu Larnaudie, published after Macron’s 2017 election.

From their first days at l’ENA, the class of 2004 had a sense of themselves as a unique group, blessed—and tested—by their good fortune. Things were happening.

On April 21, 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen had been one of two winners in the first round of the country’s presidential election. He soon lost big to Jacques Chirac in the run-off, but the unprecedented breakthrough by a far-right populist seemed an unprecedented challenge to France’s Republican values. This was also the first class at l’ENA after Chirac abolished compulsory military service for young French men. A double cohort, comprising returning conscripts and men who’d never have to serve, swelled the class’s ranks (134 French students aiming for choice spots in the civil service, plus 51 international students) and made it more lopsidedly male than usual.

Finally, on Valentine’s Day 2003, France’s foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin (ENA 1980, promotion Voltaire) gave his speech at the United Nations opposing the Bush administration’s plans for war in Iraq. Here was France carving its own path, standing against the tide, putting Anglo-Saxon noses out of joint.

All these events seemed to pose questions to the young classmates: what’s France for in the world? What’s the nature of public service? Who owes what to whom in this world? The questions were all the more pressing because, looking around, it was pretty obvious to the bright young kids that many of them were born lucky and that the hard work had come later. One was the grandson of a legendary cabinet minister. Most came from prominent families. Their school was France’s highest-pressure meritocracy, but it wasn’t only that.

The class gave a hint that it might have a rebel streak when it came time to name itself. On a long, boozy night, a few surprising names for the promotion were proposed. One was “Les Héritiers,” after a 1964 book that described how France’s higher education system reinforced privilege instead of  opportunity. The group finally decided their class would be known forever as the promotion Léopold Sedar Senghor, after a Senegalese poet who, educated in Paris and elected to the prestigious Académie Française, became Senegal’s first democratically elected president.

But that gesture was nothing compared to the coup de théâtre the class of 2004 pulled off on the last day of school. Here was the moment when students would learn how they scored on the exams and the top 20 would have their pick of civil-service jobs. The highest-scoring student in the class—the major, in the lingo—was Marguerite Bérard, daughter of an énarque and another énarque, living with a classmate she would later marry, on her way to jobs as senior advisor to Sarkozy and then as a bank president. She accepted a handshake from the director of l’ENA and then handed him a 20-page manifesto, ENA: The Urgent Need for Reform, signed by 132 of the class’s 134 students. Emmanuel Macron, 6th in his class, was one of the signatories.

The surprise was complete. The school’s leadership was humiliated. The students all received letters from a French cabinet minister berating them for their cheek. They also received the jobs they wanted and the future the ENA had been built to deliver. But 17 years later, the most relentless and seductive and unstoppable member of the promotion Senghor is implementing the reform they called for on the day when it seemed they really could write their own future.

Will it make a difference? It’s hard to say. Macron has already announced that ENA will be replaced with a new Institute for Public Service, with more entry paths than the single round of brutal exams, but with the same exit ranking as the old school. Instead of going to central coordinating agencies of government, the new school’s top grads will have to get out into the country and work in departments that actually deliver services to citizens. My hunch is that to the great majority of French citizens, it’ll be a distinction without a difference: a factory for producing a leadership class that, after it finishes its stint on the ground, will go on to run everything else.

The option of replacing ENA with nothing—leaving France without a dominant dedicated public-service school, an absence that would make it more like Canada and a lot of other countries—seems not to have occurred to Macron. Old habits die hard, even in people who think they’re dedicated to change. I do hope Macron, or some other politician who shares a certain idea of France, beats the latest Le Pen next year. For all its quirks, indeed in most cases because of them, it’s still a great country.

Source: Emmanuel Macron, l’ENA, and the old weird France

As a Cultural War Continues to Cause Waves in France, Art Has Become a Lighthouse for Progressive Views

More of France’s “culture war,” this time with respect to the arts sector:

Accused of pandering to the far-right ahead of France’s federal election in 2022, President Emmanuel Macron attempted a balancing act. In January 2021, the leader’s party said it would create a “memories and truth” commission on France’s painful colonial history and war with Algeria. In March, it released a report on the positive contributions of individuals of immigrant backgrounds called “Portraits of France.”

These initiatives are part of a broader effort to find alternative solutions to growing demands for the removal of statues and street names honoring historical figures that are connected to France’s colonial past, including its slave trade. Yet, at the same time, Macron and some of his ministers have been igniting emotions as they publicly denounce forces that they see as stoking so-called “separatism,” including what many see as US-style political correctness and cancel culture—the latter of which is a largely unpopular but growing concept in France—as well as a perceived US-version of multiculturalism.

Recent events within and outside of France have further stoked this fire. The #MeToo movement has been met with uneven hostility. The October decapitation of a teacher who showed cartoons of the prophet Muhammad during a course on free speech has led to a new bill “against separatism,” which aims to combat Islamic radicalism. And the protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in the US last year have prompted renewed conversation about the nature of racism in France, and put the country’s old ways of cultural assimilation on trial.

Against this backdrop of a culture war that shows little signs of abating, artistic projects remain a powerful place for progressive discourse in France—even as some factions in the country move to denounce what many have called an “importation” of America’s discourse on identity politics.

Art and Politics

As warring factions argue over how to integrate populations of citizens descended from former colonies, a new resurgent left, notably marked by young people from within the very populations at the center of the issue, has been pushing back against the country’s “universalist” social model, which traditionally downplays—some would say ignores—cultural differences between citizens. The traditional style of governance aims to avoid what is often viewed as an Americanized version of warring ethnic and religious groups.

In a Le Monde editorial from March, supporters of the president’s “Portraits of France” project said that playwrights, filmmakers, and painters should “seize upon these life stories and make works of art out of them that speak to our society and our world.” They added that “by ignoring a part of our shared past, we have made it harder to understand our present and to write our future.”

But these cultural in-roads are not always met with open arms. The executive branch of French government has specifically singled out academia, including the social science fields of post-colonial and intersectional studies, saying that these areas are under risk of influence from radical agendas that are pitting communities against each other. It also announced in February a sweeping investigation into the presence of “Islamo-gauchisme”—a term loosely referring to extreme-left activists who are “complacent” toward radical forms of Islamism or who apologize for terrorism—in universities. As a result, many are worried about censorship in schools and that scholarly research into the darker chapters of France’s history is under threat.

This debate spewed over into the art world when a government-commissioned portrait series of women publicly displayed in March in Paris, which was designed to celebrate diversity by featuring images of professionals from an array of different fields, sparked a vicious response. The photographs in “109 Mariannes” became fodder for controversy due to the inclusion of the young astrophysicist Fatoumata Kébé who was singled out for her headscarf. Angered that Kébé was chosen to emblematize “Marianne,” the personification of the French Republic often seen interpreted in art or on stamps, former spokesperson for the right-leaning Republican party, Lydia Guirou, was among the angry tweeters: “Marianne is not and will NEVER wear the headscarf!”

The sentiment dovetails with a draft bill that the Senate amended this month to forbid chaperones on school field trips from wearing Muslim headscarves. The bill has been strongly criticized for stigmatizing Muslims and called an overreach of France’s already strict secular laws, which forbid the wearing of clearly visible religious symbols in schools, and by civil servants.

The Faces of the Republic

Despite instances of incendiary reactions, the cultural sphere is being won over by a new wave of progressive viewpoints and views are indeed changing. A younger generation has become eager to more openly focus on the topic of race and difference. French citizens of immigrant descent are raising their voices to say that, in practice, their identities are under-represented in a society that discriminates against them for their inherent differences. With a sense of irony, they describe a society which claims to be blind to those differences while demanding that any outward signs of that difference—for example, hijabs—are avoided, to best fit a cultural mold.

“We like the idea of ‘universalism,’ because it’s a kind of utopia… But it’s easier to go to Mars than to the land of universalism,” Nadine Houkpatin told Artnet News. She is co-curator with Céline Seror of a show that includes work by artists from Africa and its diaspora called Memoria: accounts of another History that is on view until November at the Frac-Nouvelle Acquitaine MECA in Bordeaux. Houkpatin notes that while a new generation has indeed been “inspired” by some of the “woke” political ideas stemming from the US, the theorists behind many of these left-leaning ideas are often of French origin.

The curators of the Bordeaux show surmise that, when it comes to discussing these issues through art, people have an easier time accepting more progressive, controversial topics. “I think that through art, we can address these questions that are essential,” said Seror. Art “gives a certain liberty that enables us to express ourselves about these subjects,” she added.

Indeed, it seems that the art world has been somewhat shielded: Responses were overwhelmingly positive to the two shows, despite the debates going on in the public realm. The show at Musée d’Orsay even received a nod from a critic who supports the government’s investigation into academics. “I saw the exhibition, and very much appreciated it,” said Nathalie Heinich, a sociologist who has published work on contemporary art.  She is in favor of the French government’s recent stance against “radical” intellectual currents “that come from elsewhere” and a signatory in an editorial in Le Monde that described them as “feeding a hatred for ‘whites.’”

Pap Ndiaye, the historian and new director of France’s immigration museum, the Palais de la Porte-Dorée, recently told reporters that he too is concerned by the pushback on academia. “It comes at a moment when post-colonial and intersectional questions are beginning to find their very small space in French universities,” he said. “If we stop teaching them, where will the students go?” The Paris museum he oversees is currently showing an exhibit on the immigrant experience that includes 18 artists from Africa and its diaspora—it is a poignant exploration of artistic diversity and it falls on the 90th anniversary of the museum, which infamously opened with an exhibition to celebrate the colonies and included human exhibits.

The title of the show at Ndiaye’s museum, “Ce qui s’oublie et ce qui reste,” which translates to “What is forgotten and what remains,” also seems to ask what traces of this dark past remain in the popular subconscious today. It is on view until July.

While the government and certain factions of the population continue to rail against the universities, art institutions are set to become an increasingly singular voice for pressing questions about post-colonialism in France. “When an artist presents [their work] in a museum that is open to the public, then we can start talking about colonialism, decolonization, and its impact on society,” said curator Seror. “That’s the power of art.”

Source: As a Cultural War Continues to Cause Waves in France, Art Has Become a Lighthouse for Progressive Views