In the wake of the terrible murder last Friday of the teacher Samuel Paty by an 18-year-old Chechen youth in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, the government and the forces of reaction in France seized on this “opportunity” to manipulate public opinion and increase the climate of Islamophobia and repression in France. The machine of confusion and stigmatization set to work immediately. The worst example of this is undoubtedly the French Minister of Interior, Gérald Darmanin, who declared Monday on a broadcast of Europe 1 that operations have been launched against “dozens of individuals” who do not have a “link, necessarily, with the investigation, but to whom we want to send a clear message” — a style of rhetoric befitting a mafioso.
But in this reactionary choir of several voices we had a surprise guest: Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of La France Insoumise (“France Unbowed,” LFI). Since last Friday, Mélenchon has launched into a series of statements casting a cloud of stigmatization over the Chechen community. “Faced with Islamist terrorism, it is necessary to respond very precisely. There is a very clear problem with the Chechen community in France. Chechens who are active in political Islam on social media must be found and expelled,” Mélenchon said on French news site LCI.
Face au terrorisme islamiste, il faut répondre de manière très précise. Il y a clairement un problème avec la communauté tchétchène en France. Les tchétchènes qui ont une activité d’islamisme politique sur les réseaux sociaux doivent être retrouvés et expulsés. #JLMLCI
— Jean-Luc Mélenchon (@JLMelenchon) October 18, 2020
During the rally in homage to the assassinated teacher, Mélenchon made a point of expressing this xenophobic message towards Chechens, mixing a denunciation of perpetrators of terrorist crimes with an interrogation of the “Chechen community”:
We are dealing with madmen and assassins who commit acts of Islamist terrorism which sully their religion and rot our lives (…) And we must also then question what is happening with Chechens in France, for we have welcomed [into France] Chechens who were partisans of a religious civil war. [And] this is the second time we have dealt with individuals linked to this community. The first time they sent 150 [people] to terrorize a city; the second time, one cuts off the head of a teacher (…) we have to wonder what they are doing.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon (@JLMelenchon): “On a accueilli des Tchétchènes qui sont les partisans d’une guerre civile sur fond de religion (…) il faut qu’on s’interroge sur ce qu’ils font” pic.twitter.com/yBmFUu5jWy
— BFMTV (@BFMTV) October 18, 2020
These speeches hammer against the entire Chechen community and not against individuals who would commit acts of terror or crimes of various degrees of gravity. And these speeches of Mélenchon conflate innocents with criminals and turn every Chechen into a “suspected” perpetrator of terrorism. These speeches are in no way different from the stigmatization carried out on a daily basis by the government and the journalists and organizations of the far Right.
In these terrible situations, the intrinsic opportunism of the leader of La France Insoumise leads him to use the worst xenophobic rhetoric, hoping to capture a section of the electorate that is more chauvinistic and imbued with Islamophobic prejudices. Yet it is not by chance that Mélenchon attacks Chechens in particular. It is known that this ex-senator of the Socialist Party (PS) heaps praise on the foreign policy of the Russian state. In this sense, Mélenchon’s furious discourse against Chechen people is not entirely surprising.
That said, these statements by Mélenchon readily fuel the turn to the right in this situation, the government offensive against Muslims and the xenophobic and reactionary rhetoric of the currents of the extreme Right. Certain militants or sympathizers of La France Insoumise find themselves attempting to defend their principal leader by taking up the same prejudiced arguments. But this is the inevitable result of the chauvinistic republicanism that Mélenchon and La France Insoumise have exhibited since the beginning. Their “social-nationalism” is completely adapted to French imperialist republicanism, inexorably leading to the reinforcement of nationalist prejudices.
However, numerous militants and sympathizers of La France Insoumise have expressed their rejection of Mélenchon’s statements. Many have taken to social media to denounce these statements as worthy only of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right National Rally (FR, formerly the National Front or FN). Indeed, at a moment when the forces of reaction are attempting to exploit this tragedy to strengthen themselves against workers and all the oppressed, workers, youth, and the popular classes need another perspective. We must condemn the murder of Samuel Paty and we stand in solidarity with his relatives, but at the same time we must reject any racist cooptation. We must reject any and all attempts to make Muslims responsible for this repulsive crime. For this reason, we condemn these statements by the leader of La France Insoumise which stigmatize all Chechens, particularly since Mélenchon has an important influence on the exploited and oppressed.
First published on October 19 in French in Révolution Permanente.