Banning Rationality: How France’s Government Fueled Radicals

July 23 Main Image

French authorities have estimated that roughly 14,500 people demonstrated today in Paris in support to Palestine. This march comes after a weekend marked by clashes between Palestinian supporters and French police.

The pro-Palestine march organized in Paris tonight occurred with almost no abuses or any indications of violence. This is a far cry from the very troublesome and condemnable events of last weekend where a demonstration in support to Gaza quickly turned violent with evident anti-Semitic undertones.

Although the actions perpetrated this weekend are intolerable, they are, in my opinion, the by-products of government provocation. It is curious that in France, strikes in public transport can go on for weeks unhindered but a march in favor of Palestine was deemed a danger to ‘public order.’ Outlawing a planned peaceful march only served to deter peaceful, law-abiding citizens from utilizing their right to free speech. In so doing, the government not only ensured that the overwhelming masses of peaceful citizens would stay at home, but they also provoked the ire of those intent on causing trouble and chaos.

Now that is in no way a justification for the reprehensible acts committed. Racism, anti-Semitism, and any other form of institutionalized hate has no place in a democracy, much less when it is coupled in violence. That said, I posit the government knew very well what it was doing by banning this demonstration.

Following a series of clashes with police and authorities, many in France were quick to associate these isolated acts by a crazed group with the entirety of the pro-Palestine movement. This double standard is pervasive in French society. Indeed, it is this same President that banned comedian Dieudonné (yes, apparently you can ban a comedian) for anti-Semitic jokes but upholds Charlie Hebdo’s right to display caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

Both cases overlook the overwhelming majority of French-Jews and French-Muslims who are testaments of peace and tolerance every single day. A small minority, as detestable as it is, does not define an entire population: that goes for both Jews and Muslims. The gross generalizations emanating from this event have portrayed all pro-Palestinians as crazed zealots. Yet, as today’s peaceful protest showed, most people simply wish to exercise their right to free speech.

In deciding to outlaw last week’s protest, the government enraged and ultimately highlighted the most extreme individuals on both sides. When defending the decision last week, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve indicated that he did not want to import this conflict to French soil. Yet, by keeping the law-abiding demonstrators at home, he only managed to make this issue worse. Hopefully the 14,500 peaceful demonstrators who walked the streets in Paris will show the severity of this conflict is not a wedge between communities, but rather an opportunity to highlight differing political views.

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