On a recent Sunday in Paris, I had the opportunity to witness an anti-immigration street protest. The approximately 600 participants followed started next to the catacombs in Place Denfert-Rochereau, walked a 1.9 km route in about 1½ hours along two broad boulevards, and ended at the Place d'Italie, where they spent an equal length of time listening to speeches.
Organized by Résistance Républicaine (led by Christine Tasin) and Riposte Laïque (led by Pierre Cassen), the demo on March 9 also included such important figures on the right as Fabrice Robert (head of Bloc Identitaire) and Renaud Camus (a theorist). Agence France Press covered the event with a reasonably objective account that major media (l'Express, Libération, Métro, Le Parisien, Le Point) then published.
Inspired by the surprise success of the recent Swiss referendum limiting immigration, the demonstrators demanded a similar opportunity to vote on this heated issue in France. Flyers announced "Peuple de France n'aie pas peur. Dis que tu en a assez!" ("People of France don't fear. Say that you have enough!"). Tasin passed out copies of her booklet, Qu'est-ce qu'elle vous a fait la République? ("What has the [French] Republic Done to You?").
Marchers sang the national anthem, La Marseillaise, and repeated slogans shouted by Cassen from the back of a very slow-moving truck, including:
Assez, assez, d'immigration. Non, non au remplacement ("Enough, enough of immigration. No, no to being replaced [by Muslims]")
Nous sommes tous des Suisses allemands ("We are all Swiss Germans," an obscure take on the 1968 slogan "Nous sommes tous des Juifs allemands" and a reference to the recent referendum which German-speaking Swiss supported, unlike their French- and Italian-speaking co-nationals)
La sharia ne passera pas ("The Shari'a will not succeed")
Ils n'aiment pas les français, ils préfèrent les immigrés. Dehors, dehors ce gouvernement! ("They don't like the French, they prefer immigrants. Go, go, this [French] government")
Hollande – on en a marre ("We have enough of [President François] Hollande")
On est chez nous ("We are at home," implying that immigrants are not at home in France)
Hand-held signs and streamers read:
Immigration – Islamisation, Demain la Remigration! ("Immigration, Islamization, tomorrow emigration back from where you came")
Non au Changement de Peuple et de Civilisation, Non ("No to changing of people and civilization, no")
Agir pour la France ("Act for France")
Islam ras-le-bol ("Enough of Islam")
There were no incidents, perhaps because about 150 heavily armed gendarmes walked ahead, alongside, and behind the march, as well as lurked in busses. I came away from the event, as well as from discussions afterwards, with several impressions:
First, so intense is the pro-immigration and pro-Islamic pressure in France that it takes monumental courage just to stand up to these forces. And those who do so fear violence, fears confirmed by an outsized police protection. The restaurant where the leadership later met was kept under wraps.
Second, the Catholic Church showed its organizational muscle a year earlier when it brought out a huge crowd against same-sex marriage; but it subsequently lost that fight and in response formed an alliance with Muslims, hoping more effectively to forward their joint social agenda. Accordingly, it declined any role in this demonstration. The Front National, a political party based on anti-immigration policies, likewise kept its distance as it de-emphasized immigration to win over more voters in the subsequent local elections.
Third, on the positive side, the movement publicly and forcefully condemns antisemitism; on the negative side, it tolerates bigoted anti-Islamic sentiments, such as stickers proclaiming that "Manger halal nuit gravement à votre santé" ("Eating halal seriously damages your health"). Islamists may make such statements, their opponents should not. Marchers came up with unofficial, xenophobic chants ("Retour aux pays" or "Return to your countries").
Finally, as Cassen noted at the event's conclusion, this demonstration could not have taken place five years earlier and its small size matters less than patriotic and traditional forces beginning to organize. Indeed, the anger displayed on that sunny and cool Sunday fits into a much larger pattern of French social conservatives finding their voice in an unprecedented and boisterous way, a development some compare to the Tea Party in the United States.
In this spirit, future marches will likely mobilize larger crowds and have greater impact; let's hope they ignore halal food and instead focus on the real dangers.