In what seems to be a preemptive strike against his political opponents for the next presidential election, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has launched a blistering assault on French nationals of foreign origins. In a bellicose speech in the south-eastern city of Grenoble on Friday, Sarkozy made it clear that he would wage war, the perfect one that is, on crime. And of course, to show that he downright means business, he begins by reigniting his old war machine: the police, and he now gives them free hand to arrest and to be put on the deportation track people suspected of committing crimes, even if they are French citizens. The plan is to revoke the French citizenship of anyone “of foreign origin” who threatens the life of a police officer.
This reminds us of the Republican war on immigration here in the United States. Foreigners have always been used as scapegoats to justify government failures on key domestic issues. Of course, when things go wrong, someone has to be blamed for it, and people of color and of foreign origins, considered as the black sheep of society, “must bear” all the blames. They are the wretches everyone loves to hate.
Shockingly linking France’s levels of immigration and its crime, Sarkozy was emphatic. “We are suffering the consequences of 50 years of insufficiently regulated immigration, which have led to a failure of integration.” What “failure of integration” was Mr. Sarkzy referring to? If millions of French nationals are currently living on the fringe of society is because millions of doors of opportunities are simply shut at their faces. Deep-seated racism, entrenched bigotry are the prime consequences for lack of academic successes, social and economic improvement among the French immigrant population. Young children from French dilapidated suburbs all over France have long convinced no matter what they do, they will still be shunned by mainstream society.
When children lose hope, they become easy preys for masters of the underworld of prostitution, crimes etc… This assertion has long been the true fact for years.
Nicolas Sarkozy, better known as the superstar president whose popularity has plunged to historic low, knows what it takes to turn public opinion away from him and toward deprived French nationals. His tough rhetoric was soon followed by the interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, who warned that citizenship could also be revoked for those found guilty of other offences such as polygamy, female circumcision or other “serious criminal acts”.
“The only thing that interests me is responding to the legitimate expectation of our fellow countrymen, without concerning myself with feelings or declarations,” Hortefeux said, shamelessly displaying a subtle prejudice that refuses to acknowledge that French citizens of foreign origins are also French countrymen. “ The tactic of turning French nationality into a retractable status for those of non-French origin has provoked a storm of protest from most of the mainstream media and the opposition, with accusations that Sarkozy is trying to turn the country into a two-tier society,” confirms the British newspaper, The Guardian.
Many prominent personalities have also weighed on the vexing debate. “[Sarkozy] wants to discriminate against French people with the same crimes, the same offences, according to a person’s origin, according to the means with which they acquired French nationality,” Robert Badinter, the former justice minister and socialist, told radio France Inter today. “It runs contrary to the republican spirit.”
Commentators said they doubted that such a measure – which the government intends to try to make law as of September – would be legal, knowing the fact that the French constitution insures “the equality before the law of all citizens regardless of origin, race or religion”.
“I do not see how one can distinguish between two classes of citizens on the basis of whether they were born French or whether they became it,” said Guy Carcassonne, a constitutional expert.
A sleazy political move
Sarkozy’s sudden return to his “top cop” roots comes as he tries to distract the media and the electorate from the ongoing scandal surrounding the L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt and the labour minister, Eric Woerth. Previous efforts to restate his roots have resulted in a resurgence in his popularity among rightwing and far-right voters.
Foreign commentators have also expressed shock, particularly as the news has been accompanied on international television networks by recent footage of French police officers manhandling pregnant and nursing African mothers.
“Our nationality is an integral part of our identity. To take it away is like an amputation,” argued law professor Guy Carcassonne.
Historian Patrick Weill, author of “What is a Frenchman?”, said the threats were designed to feed “an atmosphere of suspicion towards French people of foreign origin.”
The influential daily Le Monde, in a front page editorial, called on Sarkozy to uphold article one of the French constitution, which “ensures the equality of all citizens before thelaw, regardless of origin.”
“No end, neither the necessary protection of citizens nor the president’s desire for re-election in 2012, justifies all means,” it warned.
But with only 20 months to go before the first round of voting and opinion polls showing the president’s approval rating at a historic low, Sarkozy has no intention of taking his foot off the accelerator.
Alongside the racially-tinged moves against immigrant criminals, the government is also promising populist measures like two-year jail sentences for the parents of minors convicted of crimes.
These measures appear designed to help Sarkozy put behind him reports that have linked his chief fundraiser to scandals surrounding the fortune of billionaire L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
They are also, experts argue, an attempt to win back votes from the far right National Front, which outflanked Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP in this year’s regional elections with its overtly anti-immigrant platform.
Political scientist Stephane Rozes said Sarkozy’s “long-term objective” was to capture far-right votes, but warned him not to forget that it was promises on “jobs, meritocracy and spending power” that won him election, not race.
“His short-term objective is to recapture the political agenda after a long period when he was no longer in control,” Rozes said.
“He’s trying to reassert the idea that he’s the one to busy himself working for the every-day citizens, in the face of a naively optimistic left.”
Socialist leader Martine Aubry, who hopes to challenge Sarkozy for the presidency in 2012, has so far said she has no intention of falling into the trap of entering a law and order debate on Sarkozy’s terms.