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A petition denouncing ‘anti-white racism’ has provoked heated reactions and soul-searching in the French media. The document was signed after an incident on 8 March when scores of high school students were violently attacked by young ‘thugs’, who had come in large numbers to disturb an important rally against the reform proposals of education minister Francois Fillon. Academics have come out of hiding to denounce the petition as a ‘dangerous’ political statement, which they say ethnicises social conflict and prevent a clear analysis of such phenomena.
Reacting to this unusual and surprisingly large-scale aggression, the progressive Zionist youth movement, Hachomer Hatzai, and Radio Shalom launched a manifesto on 25 March denouncing ‘anti-white raids’ and ‘anti-French’ racism.
Their appeal was supported by two media-friendly intellectuals, Pierre-Andreè Taguieff and Alain Finkielkraut, who have captured headlines since the 11 September attacks for their conservative, some would add islamophobic, positions.
The reactions were swift. The National Student’s Union, the Movement Against Racism (Mrap) and the Human Rights League have dismissed this appeal as ‘irresponsible”, reducing a social problem to racism, amd pitting blacks against whites.
“They are creating a victims’ competition” historian Ester Benbassa told daily Liberation. “We are witnessing an attempt to create a white majority that plays the victim,” she explained, saying they were importing the black-white antagonism of the US.
As the students protests continued, three parents of youths injured at the 8 March protest, have spoken up. In the daily newspaper Le Monde the parents affirmed that the group of young people had quite clearly come to “beat up whites”. What’s more, they accuse the government of gaining political capital out of “young people” excluded from the education system” to crush the student movement and create instability that would require police intervention. They also ask for the opening of a parliamentary inquiry into the aggression.
Several days ago, in the newspaper Liberation, the Claris reflection group, which demands a wider public debate on security, had harsh words for the media intellectuals who, they allege, reinforce their “let’s all live together at any cost” theory by an ethnic reading of social problems. It also accused intellectuals of being short sighted about the problem.
“This debate betrays a recomposition of ideological divisions (progressives-conservatives) and worse still, it marks the victory of the ideas of the National Front,” the extreme right wing party of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
The issue is unlikely to stay off the front pages for long as the authors of a petition denouncing post-colonial racism have appeals for a “March of the Natives of the Republic” on 8 May. The date is the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis, but also that of the Setif massacre by the French army in Algeria.
(Posted on April 11, 2005)