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Islamophobia didn’t interest French voters – war hysteria will?

France’s largest newspaper, France-Ouest, knows that Western polls have been so discredited – by inaccuracy, and by the revolving door that goes from ousted mainstream politician to polling company executive, and by the fact that these private companies likely will produce a poll that proves whatever you pay them to prove.

There’s only one poll that really matters at this point:

A February poll showed that just 52% of people in France were interested in the presidential vote this year, compared to 78% in the last election. That’s a staggering drop in political engagement of 33%, rare in a Western country known for sustained political activity.

Apathy usually benefits the incumbent. So does war hysteria. So things are looking pretty good for President Emmanuel Macron – any time not spent discussing his record is a good time, as far as he is concerned.

That explains why Macron just announced his refusal to participate in the 1st round debate among the recently-released list of 12 approved candidates. It’s democratically surprising that the leading presidential candidate can avoid such a key debate, but Macron didn’t hold his first press conference until two years into his term, amazingly.

Notably, François Asselineau didn’t get 500 mayors and elected officials to sign in favor of repeating his 2017 candidacy. That’s a reminder that not everyone in France can grow up to be president, and that in 2018 Macron made such signatures public, which makes it even harder for non-mainstream parties.

Macron has the problem of defending his record, and then he also has the problem of being Emmanuel Macron. He repeatedly comes off as a self-important and out-of-touch snob, and his public relations gaffes are legion and well-known. The best way for him to sound smart is by speaking French to a Russian translator.

Macron is reportedly totally out of his depth in Ukraine – how can a politically inexperienced, former Rothschild banker be expected to keep up morally, politically, and historically with committed career public servants like Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov?

Russia is not going to give softball questions nor accept softball answers, which is all Macron is used to in France since his 2017 election campaign against the far-right’s Marine Le pen.

Macron’s role in the Ukraine situation is thus simply to represent the usual role of the Fifth Republic since the Great Recession allowed the European Union to flex its muscles: play good cop to the bad cops of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Yes, Macron is happy to look important on TV cameras during an election, but he’s merely fulfilling the role of message carrier.

He will likely be re-elected. It’s possible that “postman” is a role France is content to have for its country?

For reasons only French media owners could explain, in this hyper-concentrated French media landscape, they have allowed the campaign agenda to be set by someone who is often running way down to fourth in the polls: far-right convicted racist and mainstream journalist Eric Zemmour.

Zemmour, with his Islamophobic rants against the crime that is the kebab shop, maybe good for TV ratings but – as the above poll showed – he’s clearly bad for civic engagement. France is expecting record abstention in next month’s vote.

What the 2022 election has thus far proved is that 1%-sponsored xenophobia isn’t enough to galvanize the French electorate anymore. If this is all that France’s agenda-setters can offer them, then they clearly are bored into non-participation.

This is not 2007 – a lot of veterans and widows of the War Against Algerian Independence have passed away. Kebab sandwiches are far fresher and more palatable than xenophobia which resembles convicted political criminal Nicolas Sarkozy’s absurd anti-burqa law from over a decade ago.

It’s important to recall how thrilling Le Pen made the agenda in 2017 – Frexit vote in six months, leaving the euro, repudiating banker debt – and how Francois Hollande did the same in 2012 – ending austerity, making finance the enemy, ending Germany’s stranglehold over Europe’s response to the Great Recession. The French want real issues to be discussed, but they aren’t allowed in this election.

No real issues to discuss, really? Not the once-in-a-century repression of the Yellow Vests? Sky-high inflation on top of over a decade of merely high inflation? The necessity of perhaps the West’s strictest coronavirus measures? What about Macron’s enactment of far-right economic “reforms” one after another, and often via bypassing a parliament his party dominates simply to avoid the unflattering public, media, and democratic discussion of them?

For people who understand France – this list can go on and on, thus the Islamophobia and now Ukraine.

Ukraine may have saved Macron because Islamophobia really wasn’t cutting it anymore. He’s gotten a 5 point bump since the conflict started, and he’ll likely get another bump on March 14 – years of coronavirus restrictions will end just a few weeks before the election.

At least Ukraine has pushed Islamophobia off the nightly news shows. It’s been wall-to-wall coverage of Ukraine – biased against Russia, of course. Just as it was biased against Yemen, Palestine, Libya, Afghanistan, etc. and etc. and etc. That decision isn’t really “news” either.

It will likely be wall-to-wall coverage until about 10 days before the actual vote – then I expect the polls to come surging back into public discussion. I refer to polls that have shown for years that nearly 80% of France believes that Macron’s policies are unjust and that they increase inequality, and that some 70% believe that his neoliberal austerity policies will not improve France’s economic situation.

Islamophobia surely isn’t gone from France’s election: In the two weeks between the first and second-round votes of 2017, terrorism-related raids, official announcements, and homages were in the headlines almost every day. Appalling… Expect the same in 2022, and expect Macron to keep war hysteria going to fuel a “rally around the leader” climate.

Ukraine is a real issue, but not so much for the French – it’s not so important that it should hijack a true referendum on Macron’s record and the issues which dramatically impact the average French household and community.

By Ramin Mazaheri

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