By laying a wreath on Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb last week on the 200th anniversary of his death, French President Emmanuel Macron has stepped further into the fray of the country’s escalating culture war. Can France’s rifts be healed, or is the country really headed, as some predict, toward “deadly civil war”?
Napoleon’s legacy has long been divisive. His admirers laud his role in creating the modern French state; his detractors condemn him as a coloniser who enslaved millions. But the issue has become particularly incendiary today, in the aftermath of the publication last month of an open letter by 20 retired generals.
According to the generals, France is in a state of “disintegration,” owing to several “deadly dangers,” including “Islamism and the hordes of the banlieue” (poor, immigrant-dominated suburbs surrounding French cities). An anti-racism movement that “despises our country, its culture and traditions” represents another such danger. …
Will there be a new man on a white horse in France?
France’s current prime minister, Jean Castex, has offered the “most categorical condemnation” of the generals’ letter.
Yet much of the country disagrees. Thousands of active and retired solders have affixed their names to the letter, and in an opinion poll conducted for LCI (a state-owned news channel), a clear majority of respondents (58 per cent) supported the generals’ jeremiad.
Among the letter’s specific assertions, the one that drew the most support (86 per cent) was that “there cannot and must not be any town or neighbourhood where the laws of the Republic are not enforced”.
This reflects the popular perception that police steer clear of the banlieue, where violence erupts periodically. …
Racism is the last refuge of the left:
Of course, that is not the only problem French people have with the police. Last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstration in central Paris showed that the “anti-racist forces” the generals decry are convinced that immigrants and people of colour are disproportionately subjected to police brutality. …
To those on the other side of the barricades, however, it can seem like immigrants and people of colour are somehow monopolising victimhood. After all, French police have a long history of brutality against white protesters – including, notably, during the riots of May 1968. More recently, the gilets jaunes (Yellow Vests) protests – which are conspicuously mentioned in the short open letter – left about a dozen dead. …
No more potent fuel for a culture war can be imagined than the all-too-frequent deadly attacks accompanied by cries of “Allahu akbar,” like those recently carried out against worshippers in a Catholic Church in Nice and a policewoman in a town southwest of Paris (to name two examples).
Few in France are happy with the country’s political leaders, which is why successive presidents have failed to win re-election.
hat-tip Stephen Neil