Bastille Day marks the storming of the notorious Parisian fortress and political prison in 1789. The day is meant to embody the liberal and egalitarian values of the French Republic. On 14 July that year, locals rose up against monarchy and totalitarianism. The French stormed the fortress, killed its governor, and freed prisoners from their cells. With this in mind you’d think the French ruling class might be a little more reflective. But not so, at least as far as president Emmanuel Macron is concerned.
This year the holiday comes after weeks of riots against the Macron government following the police killing of a Muslim and immigrant teenager. Macron himself chose to mark the day in a less traditional fashion: signing an arms deal with a repulsive xenophobe, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi.
Riots in Paris
On 17 June, French police shot dead a 17-year-old know as Nahel M. Protests started in Toulouse, Dijon, and Lyon before spreading to Paris. Thousands of riot police were deployed onto the streets.
Macron’s response to the killing and the protests was typical of his flip-flopping centrism. As the Canary’s Maryam Jameela wrote:
Macron has said that the protests are “unjustifiable.” Earlier, however, he also said that Nahel’s death was “inexplicable and inexcusable”. So, which is it?
Macron’s response is typical from those who, thanks to footage of killings, are forced to acknowledge the horror, without allowing for criticism of a system that equips murder at traffic stops.
This is the climate in which Macron has chosen to sign an arms deal with Modi, himself no stranger to authoritarian, xenophobic violence, Modi, who is also close to Rishi Sunak, allegedly had a BBC office in India raided recently.
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It followed the airing of a documentary on a 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom by supporters of his Hindu nationalist party. This was in Gujarat when Modi was provincial governor. As the Canary reported at the time:
In fact, the BBC documentary on Modi cited a British foreign ministry report claiming that Modi met senior police officers and “ordered them not to intervene” in anti-Muslim violence.
Around 45,000 police have been deployed nationwide in France ahead of a ceremony for Modi. Firework sales are banned by the government following protests around the police killing. The Indian leader will be awarded the Legion of Honour after a military parade.
But, beneath the ridiculous pomp, the profit motive drives proceedings. The Indian defence ministry on Thursday announced its intention to procure another 26 French-made Rafale fighter jets as well as three more Scorpene-class submarines. The deal is expected to be worth billions of euros.
Bastille Day has long since been militarised and stripped of its radical origins. The fact that an event meant, at least in spirit, to mark the fraternity of humanity is reduced to an arms deal sweetener says it all.
Modi’s presence doubly complicates the issue, given that his party’s sectarian supremacism grew out of the legacies of British colonialism. And beyond that, the shadow of a police killing of a young boy from a migrant background cannot be forgotten. France has many things going for it, but ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ are increasingly out of fashion.
Additional reporting by Agence-France Presse.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Chris McNabb, cropped to 1910 x 1000.Support us and go ad-free
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