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The French May Be Getting Less Racist — But Are Doing More Racist Things

Acts of anti-Muslim racism have almost tripled this year, as just over half the population describes itself as "not racist at all."

by VICE News
May 2 2016, 6:42pm

Foto di un abitante nel campo rom di La Courneuve, prima che fosse evacuato nell'agosto del 2015. [Foto di Etienne Rouillon/VICE News]

The French are less racist than they've been in a long time, and yet more likely to commit racist acts, France's annual report on racism has revealed.

The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights or CNCDH, the government agency in charge of the yearly survey, published a summary of the report on its website Monday.

After sliding downward for four years, and then climbing slightly in 2014, the country's 2015 "tolerance index" has shown a "clear progression towards more tolerance." The CNCDH said the results were nothing short of "surprising," given what happened the past year. In 2015, France weathered two of the worst terror attacks in its history, the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January and the November 13 bombing and shooting rampage, in which gunmen killed 130 people in the French capital. Both were the work of terrorists of North African and West African origin, acting in the name of a radical interpretation of Islam.

The agency also found that French society was becoming more open-minded and eager to embrace diversity, "despite the rhetoric of certain public figures." France's anti-immigration National Front party — whose leadership has been accused of anti-Semitism and is virulently critical of Arab and African immigration — made huge gains in the 2015 departmental and regional elections, despite failing to win any actual districts.

Introduced in 2008 by French political science professor and researcher Vincent Tiberj, the so-called "tolerance index" is intended to "measure [...] the evolution of French public opinion with regards to diversity." The curve of French tolerance is based on surveys that go back to the early 1990s. The results for the 2015 report were compiled from a week of interviews carried out in January 2016 by French pollster Ipsos. Researchers spoke to 1,015 people for the survey, quizzing them about race and minorities, equality and prejudice.

According to data from the report, 53 percent of those interviewed described themselves as "not at all racist." Another 23 percent said they were "not very racist," and a further 19 percent characterized themselves as "a little bit racist." The remaining five percent admitted that they were "pretty racist." The study also showed that 8 percent of those interviewed believe in racial superiority — but almost half of young French people say the exact opposite: 45 percent of those under the age of 35 believe that there is only a human race as opposed to individual races.

85 percent of those interviewed conceded that racism is widespread in France today, but close to 60 percent said that "some of the behaviors displayed by foreign nationals and migrants can justify racist reactions." Of all the interviewees, 29 percent said they had personally been on the receiving end of racism at least once in the last five years.

68 percent of those interviewed believe that migrants contribute to the "cultural enrichment" of French society, and 79 percent think that migrant workers make a positive impact on France's economy.

But improved attitudes on diversity have failed to reduce the number of racist incidents in the country, which have reached an all-time high this year, with a recorded 2,034 racist acts.

While anti-Semitic acts are down by 5.1 percent since last year, anti-Muslim acts have more than tripled in the past 12 months — surging from 133 in 2014 to 429 in 2015. Assorted acts of "racism and xenophobia" are also on the rise.

The report attributed the lull in anti-Semitic acts to a "compassion reflex" in the wake of hate crimes against Jews. On January 9, 2015, gunman Amedy Coulibaly killed four hostages during a siege at a kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, in Paris. Less than a month later, a man carried out a knife attack against three soldiers who were stationed outside a Jewish community center in the southern city of Nice.

Still, according to the CNCDH, Jews are the target of 40 percent of racist attacks in France today, despite making up "less than 1 percent of [France's] total population." The survey also noted that age-old prejudices against the Jewish community remain ingrained in French society.

Despite fewer attacks against the Muslim community than against the Jewish community, Muslims remain "the least accepted minority" in France today. The CNCDH said that the recent attacks had caused many to "conflate Islam and radical Islam." The French are particularly opposed to "the more visible religious practices," including the wearing of the veil in public. Researches noted an escalation in the nature of anti-Muslim violence, with reports of "live ammunition and grenades being fired, physical attacks, and arson or attempted arson."

Meanwhile, a number of French people seem to be getting cured of their "Romaphobia," with a slight decline in the level of hostility directed at the Roma community. The CNCDH partly attributes this decline to recent campaigns to raise awareness of the plight of the Roma, who remain one of the country's most marginalized groups. There were several high-profile evictions of Roma slums in France in 2015, which left scores of Roma facing an uncertain future.

Meet the 17-Year-Old Fighting Against the Impending Eviction of France's Oldest Slum

Despite the apparent contradiction between the data on public opinion and the number of racist incidents recorded by the country's Interior ministry, the CNCDH has chosen to be cautiously optimistic about the state of France's tolerance. "In times of crisis," it said, "French society knows how to respond and manifest its attachment to its core democratic values."

"Situations of anxiety" — such as those created by major terror incidents — tend to overhaul traditional thinking and rigid positions. As for whether this trend of tolerance will last, the CNCDH says it's "too early to judge."

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