An Unlikely Trigger of Racism in France

An Unlikely Trigger of Racism in France

Why you should care

Because there’s more to learn about from France than art and fine wine.

Oh, France! Everybody romanticizes it as the land of wine, cuisine and “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” But the nation’s racism has been making more headlines than its baguettes, since the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January. We know you’d never pin that on conservatives — especially in light of this new research. A yearly report from France’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights shows that:

Racism rises in France when left-wing parties are in power, but decreases under the right.

The finding is odd and a little surprising: “It is a type of reaction of opposition,” explains Vincent Tiberj, an associate professor at Sciences Po in Paris, who conducted some of the research and says citizens naturally feel like contradicting the government, regardless of its political color. The study was based on a combination of statistics from the Ministry of Interior, a survey of 1,020 people after the Charlie Hebdo attack and reports to the Ministry of Justice of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Islam attacks or threats.

So given the current cocktail of left-wing government, jihadi paranoia and a spike in asylum-seekers, it’s no surprise racism is on the rise. There have been more attacks against the Muslim community since the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January than there were in all of 2014. President Hollande’s government just unveiled a $110 million program to try to and curb the problem — including increased penalties for hate crimes. Some activists claim the government’s efforts are falling short. “You can’t cure racism like you cure a passing fever,” says Pierre Tartakowsky, president of France’s Human Rights League, adding that both right-wing and left-wing parties have been equally shy when tackling the problem head-on. He says you need to tackle the structural issues behind it: poverty, education, lack of opportunity.

To be sure, there are many other factors influencing how the French feel about people of other faiths, skin colors and countries of origin. Education (or lack thereof) is a big one. The study found — no surprise here — that most racists are not highly educated. “Racism is mostly fear, and you’ll likely be less scared of something you have read, learned about or encountered firsthand,” says Christine Lazerges, president of France’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.

Traumatic events like the mass shooting last January at political magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris also have an impact, as does the way in which the media portray the flux of immigration. Could Gypsies, Jews and Muslims in France be better off voting in conservative Sarkozy? Maybe. As Lazerges says, even if many believe the left wants to flood the country with asylum-seekers, “there’s simply no proof that recent socialist governments are better for minorities.”

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