There is a sign of anti-racist hope in France. The run-up to next April’s presidential election has seen a foul competition to talk up hatred of migrants and Muslims between fascists, the far right, the traditional right and the present president Emmanuel Macron.
But last Saturday, International Migrants Day, a broad coalition of campaign groups, trade unions, local collectives and political parties organised anti-racist protests in 50 cities in France.
The demonstrations were not huge. The largest was around 3,000 people in Paris. But they signalled the beginning of a serious effort to launch a riposte to the various shades of Islamophobia, state racism and fascism.
This campaign currently brings together more than 330 local and national organisations.
It aims to say that the official right wing political atmosphere does not reflect the views of the majority of French people. Its slogan is “Wherever we come from, wherever we are born, our country is called solidarity ”.
The campaign says, “If the planet is on fire, it has nothing to do with migration, our skin colours, our origins, our religions. The world is waiting for a spark to explode and some feed the fire that threatens us.
“We denounce all forms of racism including Islamophobia, antisemitism, anti-Gypsyism, anti-black racism and anti-Asian racism.”
This positive step needs to accelerate swiftly. Mainstream politics is saturated with racism and most of the left is engaged in discussions about electoral manoeuvres rather than struggle in the streets.
But there’s a chance to shift this. The recent drowning of 27 people in the Channel outraged large numbers of people.
Utopia 56, a migrants’ rights NGO based in France, has filed manslaughter charges against French and British coastguard officials for failing to help the 27.
The charges target Philippe Dutrieux, the coast prefect of Cherbourg, Marc Bonnafous, director of the French regional coastguard, and Claire Hughes, director of Her Majesty’s Coastguards, for “involuntary manslaughter” and “failure to help people in need”.
According to statements from two survivors, people close to the victims and people who managed to cross on the same day, distress calls were made to the French and British rescue services Utopia 56 said.
“They were given no immediate assistance,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, relatives of two of those who drowned have started a legal process in Britain. It calls for an independent public inquiry to establish the full facts of what happened on 24 November.
Saman Alipour, an Iranian Kurd, has embarked on legal action on behalf of his brother Sirwan Alipour. Sirwan’s body has been identified as one of those who died.
The second person involved in the action is Zana Mamand Mohammad, whose brother Twana is believed to have died in the tragedy.
Alipour told the Guardian newspaper, “Everybody loved Sirwan. He had dreams which could not be achieved in Iran.” He said he believed that calls to the emergency services made by his brother and others on the boat were not responded to appropriately by the British and the French.
Up to 300 people joined the call from the Muslim Association of Britain, Stand Up to Racism and numerous equalities groups to protest on Sunday outside Downing Street against the Nationality & Borders Bill.
Speakers highlighted particularly Clause 9 of the bill, which can strip a person of British citizenship without giving them notice if the government thinks that this is not “reasonably practicable”.
The bill, which has already passed through the Commons, and is due to go through the Lords in January, will affect up to 6 million UK citizens. Two in five black and Asian British citizens are at risk.
Raghad Altikriti, the new president of the Muslim Association of Britain, condemned the creation of 6 million second class citizens in Britain. “This government has no shame,” she said,
Weyman Bennett of Stand to Racism called it “misdirection”, misdirecting people from the cause of the crisis in Britain today.
Other speakers included Ben Jamal from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Birmingham TUC, the Sikh Council, CAGE, Stop the War Coalition, and Somali and Sudanese groups.
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