France’s repression of pension protests & strikes is reminiscent of crackdown on Muslims

Protests and strikes made up of hundreds of thousands of people have been taking place across France for weeks now, in opposition to Macron’s pension reforms and raising the legal retirement age from 62 to 64. Deep discontent spread across society, even in schools and universities.

At the same time, people in the rural town of Sainte-Soline have also been demonstrating against the government’s plans to privatise water resources by building water reservoirs. On both fronts, the state’s response has been violently repressive.

Indeed, France’s police is renowned for using the harshest methods of crowd control. In Sainte-Soline, two people fell into a coma after heavy use of teargas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets.

Additionally, despite their initial denial, it turns out that the gendarmerie (military police) prevented first emergency medical services from reaching one of these injured demonstrators.

”Since 2021 and the passing of the highly controversial anti-separatism bill, the government has had the legal tools to criminalise any dissenting voice and began acting on it by focusing its efforts on Muslims. Unfortunately, this was done with little resistance or uproar from the rest of society.”

Nevertheless, the police has been shielded from scrutiny and sanctions. Instead of delivering any accountability, the Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin’s efforts have gone towards attacking France’s Human Rights League (Ligue Des Droits de l’Homme) and threatening to cut its funding. This is a particularly perverse move against France’s oldest and most revered human rights organisation given it recently published findings that highlighted the excessive use of violence by French police in recent years, specifically exposing those practices against the Sainte-Soline protestors.

It doesn’t stop there. Just a week prior, Darmanin had also announced his intention to shut down the environmental movement involved in the Sainte-Soline mobilisations: Le Soulèvement de la Terre (Earth’s Uprisings).

In between these assaults on civil society, the minister took to the Journal Du Dimanche (owned by Eric Zemmour sponsor, Vincent Bolloré) and accused the government’s left-wing opponents of “ultra-left intellectual terrorism”.

Whilst Darmanin’s attacks have sent shockwaves everywhere, including amongst left leaning media, all of this isn’t exactly surprising following Macron’s war on “islamist separatism”. Indeed, since 2021 and the passing of the highly controversial anti-separatism bill, the government has had the legal tools to criminalise any dissenting voice and began acting on it by focusing its efforts on Muslims. Unfortunately, this was done with little resistance or uproar from the rest of society.

Predictably those methods are now being used more widely.

The National Consultative Commission on Human rights (CNCDH) expressed shock over Darmanin’s targeting of the Human Rights League, and called on the Prime Minister to clarify the government’s position on human rights. A collective of academics also rightly called on Macron to condemn the Interior Minister’s statements and said that attacking the League is sliding into an authoritarian dynamic (une dynamique ouvertement illibérale).

Whilst all of this is important, one has to wonder why similar uproar was nowhere to be found when Muslim organisations were being shut by the dozens in recent years? Because even if the civil liberties and freedoms of Muslims were not a primary cause for concern, had opposition been mounted against what they were facing, perhaps the current repression would not be taking place.

Darmanin can speak of “eco terrorism” and Marcon of “factions” when dismissing opposition to his reforms, because the script of loaded terms was already written and applied on Muslims under the guise of the war on terror and “security”.

After the 2015 terror attacks, to better crush Muslims the French government declared that it will no longer uphold the European Convention on Human Rights. Meanwhile, over 4000 raids were carried out against Muslims with less than 1% of them leading to an investigation.

Just a few years ago, as the police was brutalising innocent Muslim homes in the name of fighting terrorism, the rest of French society seemed to embrace what they thought was state protection from the dangerous “other”. Today, as white skulls are being cracked, the majority – who at best were silent and at worst championed the repression towards Muslims – are realising that the police is not there to protect them but to protect those in power. RELATED

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Certainly, the French police has a dark history. The track record of this institution includes the deportation of Jews, throwing Algerians into the Seine river, assassinating at point blank Arab children, and terrorising Muslim communities.

Additionally, the Banlieues which are historically filled with poor, racialised and migrant communities, have long served as France’s laboratory for repression. It says everything when a police officer can tell a Yellow Vest protestor,  “if you were in the banlieue, I would have pulled your head off”. And when anyone expressed opposition to the government from within the targeted communities – let alone dissented – they would be accused of being Islamists, fundamentalists, etc.

This treatment is no longer reserved for the ‘minority’. Now, journalists and even elected officials are being harassed by the police when they march or when they simply do their job.

As Legal scholar Mireille Delmas Marty warned, France has been drifting towards “soft despotism”. In reality, those feeling the heat of neoliberal reforms being brutally applied today are in for a rude awakening for what is yet to come.

It serves as an important reminder that France’s motorised anti-riot police (BRAV-M), who were banned after the beating Malik Oussekine to death in 1986, were brought back to crush the 2018 Yellow Vest movement. The so-called Republic doesn’t value any life that resists the status quo, nor does it respect any space that seeks to hold them to account over the erosion of civil liberties, and clearly it will employ any tool deemed necessary to quash opposition.

Maybe the white majority will learn once and for all that when they allow the human rights and civil liberties of one group to be attacked, they are weakening their own. When Muslims in France put out a plea for outrage and solidarity to them, they received silence, now that majority is being confronted with the fact that it is not a question of “if” they will fall victim to state repression but rather “when”.

Yasser Louati is a French political analyst and head of the Committee for Justice & Liberties (CJL). He hosts a hit podcast called “Le Breakdown with Yasser Louati” in English and “Les Idées Libres” in French.

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