If they’re onto a good thing, then why not copy it? In the "business" world, while innovators may win plaudits, brand knock-offs can be pretty lucrative too. Just ask Naples’ Camorra. As Roberto Saviano has written, this branch of the mafia makes big bucks imitating Italian designer labels, and selling them on to hoards of unwary tourists outside of Europe’s top tourist sights.
But knock-offs aren’t just limited to the business world. Take French anti-Muslim activists Génération Identitaire. They are a group of twenty-something, hip right-wing activists who have attracted stacks of column inches over the past week. And they have done so by ripping off Spain’s indignados.
One of the most prominent groups of activists on Spain’s Puerta Del Sol last year was Juventud Sin Futuro ("Youth without a Future"). Their slogan, "no house, no job, no worries", matched the mood in Madrid’s spring 2011. The group came to symbolise an entire generation of young people in Southern Europe, who felt years of education had left them indebted and unemployed.
France’s Génération Identitaire must have liked what they saw in Madrid that spring. The far-right group made a stir last week. The group’s name evokes the desperate young protestors at Sol. They have copied Juventud Sin Futuro’s yellow and black colour scheme.
And they have come up with a "declaration of war" on behalf of their "generation" and put it online:
"We’re the generation that [get killed]for looking the wrong way, refusing a cigarette or for dressing provocatively. We’re a generation [born into]ethnic division, the complete failure of communal cohabitation, of forced interbreeding."
The group took that message out for a spin in public last week. By occupying the site of a mosque that’s currently under construction in Poitiers, a city in western France.
Only 70 protestors made it to that demonstration. But the protest triggered condemnations from France’s politicians and a global media reaction.
The protestors carefully chose Poitiers. The city is located near the site of a 732 battle between Muslims and Franks, who won in the end. Unfurling a banner on the roof of the mosque, the group proclaimed its demands: "No more immigration from outside of Europe and no constructions of mosques on French soil."
The French government very quickly condemned Génération Identitaire’s protest. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called the occupation of the mosque "an attack on the [French] republic and its values". And the district prosecutor in Poitiers, Nicolas Jacquet, is investigating the group for staging "an unauthorised demonstration, incitement to racial hatred, and premeditated collective damage to property," wrote French daily Le Figaro last week.
Four members of the group have been arrested in relation to the demonstration. And the French interior minister is considering whether French law allows for the banning of the group, reported Liberation.
But those actions would come too late for some in France’s erstwhile North African colonies. "Islamophobia continues to pick up steam in France," opined Algerian daily El Watan over the weekend. "Many observers are skeptical that [a ban]would work, because the group could reform with a new name."
And anyway, adds El Watan, Marine Le Pen has been quick to offer the group backing. Le Pen told French radio station RTL that she was "bowled over by the hysterical reaction of the political classes" to the occupation of the mosque in Poitiers.
Now, those remarks may seem unsurprising, coming from the leader of the far-right National Front. In the past, Le Pen has won popularity by campaigning against burkhas and Muslim prayer in French streets.
Le Pen holds sway with anything from a tenth to a fifth of French voters. And after the clashes prompted by The Innocence of Muslims last month, there are signs that mainstream conservative leaders in Paris are drawing ever closer to her views.
Jean-François Copé could very soon be elected president of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement party. That would make him arguably the most prominent standard-bearer for conservatives in François Hollande’s republic. Copé is facing off against Sarkozy’s former prime minister, François Fillon, a man who polled well — even when the Sarkozy government was tottering.
So, in his attempts to win over UMP and Le Pen voters nostalgic for an immigrant-free France, Copé hasn’t just been dog-whistling. He himself is headed — fangs bared — for Le Pen territory.
Last month, Copé declared that the French government had to do more to fight against "an anti-white and anti-French racism rampaging through the banlieues."
Through the outer-suburban areas where most of France’s four million Muslims live, in other words.
"Certain individuals — some of whom are French citizens — denigrate the French as "Galois", simply because they don’t share the same religion, the same skin colour and the same origins," he declared in his new book.
Now that caused a stir, with condemnation from some on the right in France, and outrage on the left. But then Copé went even further. At a campaign meeting, he told UMP activists that he could understand the "exasperation" of some ordinary French mums and dads:
"Returning home from work at night, they discover that thugs have stolen the pain au chocolat from their kid at the school gate. [The ruffians] tell him that you can’t eat over Ramadan."
Muslim groups in France reacted by distributing pains au chocolat in the centre of Paris, to encourage dialogue about "islamaphobia". And a spokesman told news weekly Le Point, "Ramadan 2012 took place over the school break."
However, none of Copé’s remarks seem to have damaged his campaign — to the contrary. Copé’s poll numbers show that anti-immigration wins over mainstream voters in France today. Indeed, new poll numbers show the extent to which average French people are terrified of Muslim immigrants. An IFOP survey has shown that 43 per cent of those polled "believed Muslim communities posed a threat to [French] national identity", wrote German Turkish community website Deutsch Türkische Nachrichten last week.
Those poll numbers represent a further "hardening" of French sentiment against Muslim immigrants, a spokesman for IFOP said. So perhaps Copé — a conservative knock-off of Marine Le Pen — is just the ticket for French conservatives aiming to win back power?
ABOUT BEST OF THE REST: It’s a big world out there and plenty of commentators and journalists are writing about it – but not always in English. And not surprisingly, ideas about big events of the day shift when you move away from the Anglosphere. Best of the Rest is a fortnightly NM feature by Berlin-based journalist Charles McPhedran. Charles reads the news in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese and reports on what the rest of the world is saying about the big stories.
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