The Guardian • Issue #1960

Generals threaten civil war in open letter to French government

In France a group of military personnel, both active and retired, have penned an open letter to President Emmanuel Macron warning him of what they see as the perils facing the country. The letter, begun by Captain Jean-Pierre Fabre-Bernadac, currently has over 24,000 signatures, including twenty-five retired generals, around 100 high-ranking serving and ex-officers, and more than 1,000 other military personnel, either active or retired, alongside thousands of others who’ve pledged support for the letter. The exact numbers of each group are difficult to tell as only the first 1,500 signatures are available on the website,

The letter warned Macron of the “perils” of “Islamism” and “anti-racism” facing France and that the country could soon descend into “civil war” because of his weakhanded approach. The letter was published in the right-wing Valeurs Actuelles (Current Values) magazine which called it a “letter embedded with the conviction and commitment of these men attached to their country.”

The letter dramatically begins with:

“The hour is grave, France is in peril, numerous mortal dangers menace her. We who remain, even in retirement, soldiers of France, cannot remain indifferent to the current circumstances of our beautiful country.”

The main thrust of the letter is that France has lost its way and no longer holds sacred its traditional values. It lists the various threats it sees to the internal coherence of French society. Usually texts of this nature contain dog whistles but this time the authors brought out the fog horns. The letter refers to inhabitants of the “banlieues,” the mainly immigrant areas that ring French cities, as the “suburban hordes,” who “scorn our country.”

Those immigrants are largely from former French colonies. The letter makes the ridiculous claim that the banlieues have become no-go zones for French law enforcement, where law and order and French values don’t exist. Ridiculous indeed seeing as banlieues are some of the most heavily policed areas in the country. The timing of the letter’s publication was by no means accidental, as it was published on the 60th anniversary of a failed coup d’état by generals opposed to France granting independence to Algeria under Charles de Gaulle. It is an extremely bitter reality, the very same people who were murdered, oppressed, and often forced to flee in their own countries because of French colonialism find themselves once more persecuted in that same country.

The letter also repeats the criticisms against “anti-racism,” and “de-colonial theory,” found in a lot of the current right-wing rhetoric in France. For a closer examination of that rhetoric see Guardian “Islamic-Leftism: From Conspiracy to Policy” #1957. None of the claims made throughout the letter are substantiated in any way, it simply leans on the prestige of the former military positions of its signatories to peddle the same tired old anti-Islamic rhetoric and vague appeals to the non-descript “French values” that are supposedly being lost.

Interestingly, the letter also accuses the government of seeking to use the police “as proxy agents and scapegoats” to oppress Yellow Vest protests of recent years, who they see as genuinely expressing their “despair” at the state of French society. Though in the same breath the letter decries the “undercover and hooded individuals [who] ransack businesses and threaten these same law enforcement agencies.” In the typical sloppy style of hypocrites, they’ve shown their hand: they’ll defend the right to protest, who may protest and how is at their discretion. The letter ends by boldly proclaiming that if nothing is done, and the government continues its program of tolerance, then there will be an inevitable crisis in which the French army will need to intervene to protect France’s “civilisational values” and to “save our compatriots on our national territory.”

While it is more difficult for the French government to punish former service members, they are not totally immune from government backlash; they can be stripped of ranks. Defence Minister Florence Parly has announced that active members could be punished under a law that requires soldiers to be politically neutral. How anyone can think that participants within the military industrial complex of any country can be “politically neutral” is beyond comprehension but we can assume here it just means the military is supposed to remain in lockstep with the will of the government.

This interesting tension between the military and the government was confirmed by Hervé Grandjean, the Defence Ministry Spokesman, who said that the signatories had broken military rules by “openly criticising the government or appealing to comrades to take up arms on national territory.” Each of the active signatories will have to face a senior military council with the possibility that they could be “de-listed” or placed into “immediate retirement.”

However, there was one government Minister who gleefully and opportunistically revelled in the publication of the letter. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, formerly called the National Front, initially showed her support for the letter by publishing her own response piece in the same magazine. In it, she professed her profound agreement with the sentiments expressed in the letter. She even invited the retired generals to back her upcoming 2022 election campaign, saying “I invite you to join us in taking part in the coming battle, which is the battle of France.”

The current climate of anti-Islamic rhetoric peddled by Macron’s government is playing straight into Le Pen’s populist platform, bolstering her chances in next year’s election. In the 2017 election, while none of the candidates won a decisive majority in the first round of voting, Le Pen wasn’t far behind Macron. Under the French electoral system, this meant that France had to go into a second round of voting, this time only between Macron and Le Pen. While Macron decisively won this second round he may not get so lucky in the next election.

His current “anti-separation” bill, largely criticised for being anti-Islamic, is giving a lot of ammo to Le Pen’s upcoming campaign, with most polls showing Macron and Le Pen standing neck and neck for the first electoral round of 2022, and the other viable candidates lagging far behind, Macron’s centrist platform could very easily topple in the onslaught of Le Pen’s “cleaned up” far-right populist rhetoric. Ugo Palheta, a sociologist and lecturer at Lille University, summed it up most concisely “The problem is that the farther you extend your reach towards the far right, the more the far right progresses.”

While it would be easy to dismiss this letter as simply the disgruntled mumblings of a few ex-servicepeople, it has once again propelled Islamophobic rhetoric back into the French national discourse. Appeals to “French tradition” or “civilisation” in politics are very often used to target those who are deemed as “not-French” or “not French enough,” in this case French Muslims. If your interests are genuinely to enhance “national unity” then you wouldn’t go about it by demonising already marginalised sections of the population. But then, it’s clear that this isn’t where the interests of the people who signed this letter lie at all. True unity must come from the solidarity of the international working class and must not be bound by the abstract “patriotic” values of nationalism.

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