French socialist Christiane Taubira — the minister of justice, also known as the “keeper of the Seals” — formally resigned last week over what she called “a major political disagreement” with French socialist President François Hollande on anti-terror policies.
At stake was a constitutional amendment known as the Protection of the Nation Constitutional Act (Loi constitutionnelle de Protection de la Nation) that would strip persons who join ISIS or other jihadist networks, or who commit “grave crimes against the life of the Nation,” of their French citizenship.
The measure is largely symbolic. Still, it is immensely popular: according to an OpinionWay/Le Figaro poll, it is supported by 85% of the French as a whole, 80% of the socialist voters, and even 64% of the hard-left voters.
But Taubira, who was supposed to endorse and defend it as the minister of justice, claimed that it unfairly differentiated between the ethnic French and other groups of French citizens. Indeed, a first version targeted only binationals and had to be corrected. Taubira resigned nevertheless. Hollande and the socialist prime minister Manuel Valls may have preferred she stay.
Taubira, 63, can be described in some ways as the French Barack Obama.
She was born in the French overseas county of Guiana, an enclave in South America. She was initially affiliated with local independent parties. Then, she admitted that secession from France was an unrealistic proposition: Guiana, a place as large as Austria or nearly as large as Maine, is underpopulated (250,000 inhabitants) and derives most of its GDP from French subsidies and investment. She then joined French mainstream politics with a new ambition: taking the lead of the “neo-French,” the combined non-Caucasian overseas and immigrant communities. This was a smart gamble, since this constituency is rapidly growing in numbers and assertiveness: from 10% of the global French population in the 1990s to 15% today, and — according to demographic projections — to 20% or more in the 2020s.
Her first step was to draft a “politically correct” law in 2001 — the Taubira Law — that retroactively declared the Atlantic slave trade and slavery “crimes against humanity.” It turned her into an icon.
One year later, she ran as a dissident left-wing candidate in the 2002 presidential election, thus depriving socialist candidate Lionel Jospin of a fraction of the national vote and preventing him from taking part in the second ballot. The socialist leadership got the message: they made sure in subsequent elections to have her on their side, whatever the price.
Hollande, who is as fine a political strategist as Taubira, entrusted the ministry of justice to her in 2012. She was to be the architect of far-reaching “societal” plans that would compensate for the administration’s shortcomings in economic matters: budgetary austerity, tax raises, unemployment.
Taubira obliged, from a 2013 law granting marriage status to same-sex partnerships to a 2014 penal reform that abolished or limited jail sentences for many offenses or crimes. Similar reforms were undertaken for similar purposes by other ministers in public education, public housing, and environmental affairs.
However, a new situation arose last year in the wake of repeated and horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris.
Hollande and Valls know that public security is now a priority, even for most left-leaning voters, and that the nation as a whole is getting suspicious and wary of non-European immigrants. Hence their insistence on the constitutional amendment on French citizenship.
On the other hand, Taubira knows that endorsing the amendment would ruin her image as the champion of “political correctness” writ large.
She had to go, and Hollande and Valls had to let her go — even if she may exact a vengeance by running again as a dissident far-left candidate in the 2017 presidential election, or at least in the socialist primaries due to take place by the end of 2016.
In France as in other Western countries, “political correctness” was an outcome of WW2. Everything that had been highly regarded under Hitler’s mad regime was now rejected. Simple, Manichean logic; but there were just a few steps from the Manichean to the Orwellian. And the Taubira legislation is no exception in this respect.
Take the Petré-Grenouilleau controversy that rocked French acamedia in the mid-2000s. In 2004, Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, then a historian at Southern Brittany University (UBS) in France, published Les Traites Négrières (The Negro Slave Trade), a global investigation on African slavery and the slave trade. Since he made clear that African slaves had been hunted and sold in the first place by African slave traders, that the North African and Middle Eastern slave trade was no less active in Africa than the European, and that slavery and the slave trade were not a genocide (since traders and owners were not interested in killing their slaves), he was charged under the Taubira Law of “denying a crime against humanity.”
Taubira herself opined that it was “problematic” for UBS, as a government-funded university, to allow Pétré-Grenouilleau to teach his “views.”
Even more Orwellian was the doxa about immigration. It posited that the correct anti-racist attitude was not just to care for the human rights of non-European immigrants, but actually to welcome them en masse and to allow them to keep their culture and their way of life — even if that would contradict basic European values and endanger Europe as a free society.
Last summer, security services all over Europe warned that “migrants” or “refugees” from North Africa and the Middle East were a security risk. The German secret services even pointed to their rabid anti-Semitism. Desipte all that, the EU leadership in Brussels and major EU countries, including Angela Merkel’s Germany, seriously considered taking in several millions Middle East refugees overnight.
Political correctness is now falling apart due to terrorism and other crises, like the growth of “no-go zones” in France and attacks on women in Germany, Austria, Sweden, and Finland. Le Monde, the French liberal newspaper, quoted Cologne victims as saying:
Since 1945, we Germans have been scared to be charged with racism. Well, the blackmail is over now.
But Taubira may know how to reinvent herself once again.