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Occupy le mosque: France’s new radical nativism

Last month, about 70 activists of Generation Identitaire (GI) occupied the site of the unfinished Poitiers Grand Mosque. They unfurled a banner that read, “732 Generation Identitaire”, and asked for a…

A screen grab from Generation Identitaire’s, a growing far-right French movement’s, “Declaration of War” video. YouTube

Last month, about 70 activists of Generation Identitaire (GI) occupied the site of the unfinished Poitiers Grand Mosque. They unfurled a banner that read, “732 Generation Identitaire”, and asked for a referendum on halting Islam and immigration into France.

The action was not without precedent, nor was it without warning.

GI launched its two and a half minute “Declaration of War” on YouTube on the 4th of October. The “declaration de guerre” features an array of young faces denouncing the legacy of the French left radicals of 1968. They paint a picture of anti-white racism, the deliberate destruction of French traditions, failed multiculturalism, pointless foreign wars, and a parlous economic future.

The narrative is emotionally driven and gives no details of the conflict to be. It can only be assumed the Poitiers occupation was the first act in their war.

The first sortie in the media war

The year 732 is historically significant. It is the year the Frankish king, Charles “The Hammer” Martel, defeated the invading Moors near Poitiers. It is a victory considered to be a defining moment in the defence of Europe against an expansive Islam.

The choice of the Poitiers Mosque and the evocation of the memory of Charles Martel are in accord with the previous acts of strategic provocation and nativist protest of the GI’s parent movement, the Bloc Identitaire (BI).

The BI apply similar methods to provocateurs like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) or US pro-life protesters who engage in contentious and sometimes illegal direct actions and non-violent protests in the attempt to set a media agenda. Protests designed to gain attention have been the identitairians' weapon of choice in their battle for an ethno-regionalist France, and ultimately Europe.

The BI have been engaged in actions designed to raise awareness since the movement’s inception in 2003. The most internationally significant of these was the 2010 Sausage and Wine parties designed to draw attention to the Muslims illegally praying on the streets of Paris, and define a sharp difference between the alcohol and pork-laden tradition cuisine of France and the absence of both in Islam.

The parties made international news when they were banned by the police, who considered them a racist provocation. According to the BI they drew attention to the Muslim’s illegal street prayers, an issue adopted by right wing politician Marine Le Pen in the recent presidential election.

The Front National and identitarians

The evolution of the Under Marine Le Pen, the Front National has moderated its message and now stands as a party that often oscillates between ethnic and civil nationalism. Le Pen’s public utterances are anti-globalist and staunchly in support of the secular republic against the perceived religious fervour of elements of Muslim populations.

Though they invoke many of the same themes, the identitarians have a diverse array of influences: non-Marxist socialists, Italian communist Antonio Gramsci’s approach to hegemony and meta-politics, Catholic social teaching, Swiss style direct democracy and the French “New Right”.

Unlike the Front National, they do not place primacy on the centralised French state and identity, but rather the “organic”, polycentric regional ethnicities of France, whether Breton, Alsatian, or Basque. There is an allegiance to France, but more importantly an allegiance to the continent, in accord with the Europe of a 100 Flags as advocated by the Breton nationalist, Yann Fouéré.

In fact, the youngest of the Le Pen political dynasty, Marion Marechal Le Pen, reportedly refused to attend the 2012 BI convention due to their regionalism and Europeanism.

France’s far right is growing through conventional political parties, such as the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen. EPA/Ian Langsdon

The BI have allied with other nativist-regionalist movements, like the Flemish Interest, the Lega Nord and the Platform for Catalonia. These groups share a desire to evolve and strengthen their own stateless ethnic identities while maintaining a critical focus on the perceived danger of Islam to Europe in general and their “ethno-nations” in particular.

The identitarians are eager to consolidate their place in the self-defined “counter-jihad movement”.

A better tomorrow?

The identitairians aim to spread their “European versus Islam” narrative with cutting edge modes of communication. Adhering to the Gramscian notion that a cultural war must be engaged in prior to revolutionary change, they have consciously developed a nativist counter culture complete with ideology, symbols and aesthetics.

They combine social media, guerrilla advertising with a historical trajectory that places them as defenders of an “organic” Europe against a perceived demographic jihad. Whether as Spartans against the Persians, Frankish warriors against the Moors, or Venetian sailors against the Ottomans, the idenitarians are eager to present themselves as the next in the long line Europe’s staunchest defenders.

Media ‘reconquista’

Due to the economic problems facing much of Europe, the apparent tension surrounding Islam and immigration, and popular criticism of the EU, it’s likely BI and GI will engage in future acts of strategic provocation. In terms of media exposure, the mosque occupation has been a success. Denunciations from major political figures only magnify their cause.

They sense a repressed anger at political and media elites in France, around issues of immigration, Islam, globalisation and the centralised French state. The BI and GI hope to be a lightning rod for such feelings.

Join the conversation

12 Comments sorted by

    1. Neo Tesla

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Haydn Rippon

      For someone who is less scholarly burdened, I reckon 'fascism' will do.

    2. Haydn Rippon

      Queensland University of Technology

      In reply to Neo Tesla

      Excellent, a fellow Tesla enthusiast.

      There's a few reasons why BI/GI is not a fascist movement:

      1. They do not advocate violence, but rather strategic provovation as part of a 'cultural war'.

      2. They support radical decentralisation into regional ethnicities as opposed to authoritarian state centralism.

      3. They tend to support Swiss style direct democracy, and have been visited by the Swiss SVP leader and 'counter-jihad' personality Oskar Freysinger. They have noted that people's referendums…

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    3. Neil James

      Executive Director, Australia Defence Association

      In reply to Haydn Rippon

      Haydn, you are quite right.

      The term "fascist" is rarely used correctly. Indeed it is often flung around with little thought or knowledge of its corporatist economic identity (or leadership roots in early 20th Century European socialism).

      BI/GI are not even a post-fascist movement.

    4. A Ahmed


      In reply to Neo Tesla


      Sorry this is an anti fascist, or counter jihad, or freedom movement.
      The fascist in the room is islam. the word "islam" actually means to submit. and Islam is a political ideology that, as witness around the word for the last 1400 years, forces people to submit to the sharia way of life.

      a typical meaning of facism is

      1. often Fascism
      a. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
      b. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government. (= islam)
      2. Oppressive, dictatorial control. (= islam)

    5. David Wright

      Systems Technician

      In reply to A Ahmed

      A Ahmed

      An excellent definition of fascism. By this definition the governments of North Korea and China are fascist organisations. No arguments from me on that score.

      The word "fascist" is frequently used as a term of abuse by those on the Left against Right-wing organisations or philosophies with which they disagree. It should be remembered that the Left has its fascists too.And that they are equally toxic to informed debate.

    6. A Ahmed


      In reply to David Wright


      and your point? In the context of this article, who are the facists?

      My point is that the mosque is a monument to facism and Islam is the ultimate form of facism.. Allah says so and if you disagree then behead them.. sound familiar?

      Those that are objecting to the mosque are infact objecting to a temple that promotes facism.. you are probably one of the PC crowd that will try impose the PC form of facism and shut down discussion.

    7. David Wright

      Systems Technician

      In reply to A Ahmed

      A Ahmed

      Please do not put words in my mouth, or attribute opinions to me which I have not expressed. Speech is free. Opinions are free. Any attempt to suppress the free expression of ideas is fascist in nature. This should give you some idea of my attitude towards Political Correctness. If you wish to characterize Islam as the ultimate form of fascism then go ahead. If I choose to disagree, I will. I rather think that you are confusing a religion with some of the extremists who claim to represent it. As a fairly amiable atheist, I tend to take a more tolerant view of the foibles of the religiously inclined.

    8. A Ahmed


      In reply to David Wright


      "Take a more tolerant view"

      I agree on tolerance and going the distance in integrating, it is the only way forward as tiny space ship earth gets smaller and smaller with the number of people breeding the way they do.

      However, tolerance needs to be informed and not blind. A radio active source needs to have appropriate measures in place to protect one self and others need warning signs so that they too understand the hazards..

      as we move into the future, we are witnessing many claims being made and whether we like it or not, there are deadly results and consequences. Whether we like it or not, we are being forced to confront these claims and that is almost impossible if we use generic dismissals such as "tolerant views of the foilbles of the religiously incline"

      So tolerance is one thing vs informed and responsible tolerance is another. Informed tolerance and speaking out about what should not be tolerated is essential.

    9. David Wright

      Systems Technician

      In reply to A Ahmed

      A Ahmed

      Tolerance is, by definition, always informed. Otherwise it is ignorance. Let me give you a clue to my thinking.

      I worked in Saudi Arabia, for an oil company, for fifteen years and worked and socialised with many muslims. Most of them were Saudi Arabs, but some were from India, and some from Pakistan. Some were very devout, but most were a fairly easy-going bunch, trying to build a better life for themselves and their families. Back in the UK it seems that muslims here seem to divide…

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  1. Peter McPhee
    Peter McPhee is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Professorial Fellow in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne

    A most interesting article, thanks. It misses what is very old about these xenophobic movements, that the appeal to 'pays' or region (Alsace, etc.) is a repudiation of the nation-state as created by the French Revolution 230 years ago. We find these appeals to an imaginary past under Vichy and during the Dreyfus Affair, for example. Crazy stuff, given that regional populations are so heterogeneous now. It's for that reason that this movement cannot compete successfully with the Front National, which can deliver the anti-immigrant message while playing the more general 'France for the French' card.

    1. Haydn Rippon

      Queensland University of Technology

      In reply to Peter McPhee

      Agree completely, the regionalism is in part a rejection of the values of the revolution, as much as it's an expression of the ethnies suppressed sometimes brutally, by the French state. In particular the Vendee rebellion in Breton.

      At the latest convention the BI president, Fabrice Robert, repudiated the notion of the movement as a political party, but rather as an activist group. It's inevitable there will be some relationship between the BI and the FN, possibly similar to relationship between Green Peace and the Green parties.

      There's so much I could write about BI. They really are an almost textbook expression of the Nouvelle Droite. Should be visiting when I do fieldwork next year.