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November 17, 2015

Far-Right Backlash in France after Paris Attacks

On the heels of the horrific attacks in Paris, far-right groups in France are already escalating their xenophobic rhetoric and mobilizing supporters to turn their anger against refugees and immigrants. Muslim and immigrant communities across the country face a greatly increased risk of hate crimes. Indeed, violent confrontations are already happening.

As hundreds of people gathered in Lille on Saturday to demonstrate support for the victims of the attacks, a small group of far-right supporters tried to force its way into the crowd. The extremists reportedly shouted insults and threats, set off smoke bombs, and brandished a banner that read: Kick Out the Islamists! They were repelled by other demonstrators, who yelled, “Keep out of it, fascists!”

In Pontivy, a far-right anti-immigrant demonstration on Sunday degenerated into violent confrontations with counter-protestors. It was organized weeks in advance by ADSAV, a local far-right nationalist group. Security forces intervened with tear gas and arrested several people. In the midst of the pandemonium, a man of North African origin was reportedly the victim of a hate crime: he was tackled and assaulted by six people while bystanders were unable or unwilling to intervene.

In addition, an international convening of extreme far-right groups took place in Paris on November 14, organized by France’s Groupe Union Défense (GUD). Attendees reportedly included Greece’s notorious neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, along with groups from Italy, Cyprus, Spain, Belgium, South Africa, and Russia. We have received subsequent heartening updates that this was a small event, not seen as representative of the situation on the ground in France more broadly.

President Francois Hollande said he will seek to expand the scope of the national state of emergency and extend it for three months. The Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, announced that as part of this initiative, the government would dissolve radical mosques that “lash out at the values of the Republic.”

This heavy-handed response may lead to the intimidation of the broader Muslim community. It would, in other words, play into the hand of extremists, who want to drive a wedge between Muslims and the government.

As France determines its course of action and calls on its allies for support, an inclusive E.U.-led solution to the refugee crisis hangs in the balance. Yesterday Marine Le Pen—president of the National Front, a far-right party that rose to prominence largely on the strength of its anti-immigrant platform—called for the “immediate halt of all reception of migrants in France.” Other countries influenced by far-right movements have already spoken out against welcoming refugees after the Paris attacks.

Encouragingly, however, on Monday Hollande stated that it’s “vital” for the European Union to continue accepting refugees from Iraq and Syria. Government officials across Europe should recognize that these refugees are often themselves victims of ISIS and other extremist groups, who risk their lives to be somewhere where their rights will be protected.

Human Rights First has issued recommendations on how the United States can best support France and provide the sort of solidarity that ensures, as President Obama said after the attacks, that “our values are going to endure far beyond any act of terrorism.” How France responds now will determine whether this cycle of violence is disrupted or perpetuated.

This blog post has been updated in light of recent reports and developments.