Allia Calkins is a senior from Rochester, NY majoring in Economics and History with a minor in French. Aside from a brief stint with the local Democratic Committee in 12th grade, Allia has limited her political involvement to VPR and nightly dates with Jon Stewart (RIP). Her favorite Twitter personalities include Ezra Klein, Josh Groban, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Go Bills!
Life goes on. Nearly three weeks after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, France, the French have returned to their lives. Paris recently hosted a global climate change conference, and on December 6, France will vote in regional elections to determine which party controls each of France’s 13 regions. Like any midterm election, these will provide the opportunity for the people to voice their opinions on the direction the country is going. In the weeks after the attacks, however, it seems that the French only have one thing on their minds: protection from future terrorism. History has shown that fear drives voters to extremes, and French citizens are no exception.
While President François Hollande’s popularity has increased since the attacks, other candidates in his party have not been so lucky. Additionally, the Front National, France’s extreme right party, has seen huge gains in the days before the election. While the leader of the Front National, Marine Le Pen, suspended her campaign immediately after the attacks, it did not take long for her to seize upon the opportunity to convince French voters that her party was the only one who could prevent a future attack. She blames the current government for the Paris attacks, and says the attacks were a result of its inaction, lies, and immigration policy. Because of her party’s promise of tighter boarder and immigration control, as well as vowing to confront “radical Islam” (in their eyes, all Muslims), Le Pen has seen growing popularity since the attacks.
France is not the only country where citizens make political decisions based on fear. Voters in the United States are very familiar with political rhetoric attacking minorities and immigrants. Donald Trump sees a spike in his popularity every time he vows to close off borders or create a national registry of Muslims. The other Republican candidates see this and have since engaged in a contest to “out-right” each other, driving the party to extremes.
The growth of the far right has many people nervous. Manuel Valls, the prime minister of France who is a member of the Socialist party, has called the Front National anti-Semitic and racist, and says that the job of the government is to “unite the nation around fundamental values and not the ‘simplistic discourse of the far-right that terrorism is Muslims, immigration or Europe.’’’ Additionally, La Voix du Nord, a local French newspaper recently used its own front-page to warn its readers about the Front National, saying that Le Pen and other members are not what they seem.
While the far right promises a solution to increasing extremism and terrorism, in reality they will most likely contribute to more problems at home. As refugees pour into countries like France or the U.S. looking for solace and a new home, they will be disappointed to find an increasing amount of doors shut in their faces. Rather than become integrated into the countries they travel to, refugees will become disillusioned, or even angry, and may turn to radical groups promising revenge against those who have turned the refugees away. For example, the suburbs surrounding Paris, or the banlieues, are home to a very large Muslim community. As this population faces increasing discrimination, the people living in the banlieues have turned to radicalization to achieve equality. Many argue that this is just what ISIS, the perpetrators of the recent attacks, want. If what ISIS wants is to turn the world against the West, then right-wing parties like the Front National play right into their hands by turning peaceful migrants away.
It will be hard for voters in France to keep their fears at bay while they cast their votes, however in order for the country to move forward from these attacks they cannot put a government in place that will give ISIS what it wants. The same is true for voters in the United States. A country that is accepting to refugees running from the same thing it is fighting will be much stronger than a country that turns people away. Like the charge put forth in “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, telling citizens to take up arms against tyranny, democratic nations must instruct its citizens on how to combat terrorism at home: not with violence and hate, but by showing acceptance and by being welcoming to all.