|Demonstrators here in Lyon, France, yesterday (my photo)|
The first and most obvious culprit is the cluster of extreme-right wing groups to which Méric's alleged killers are said to belong. They have been upping the violence stakes for months in their fight against the left, homosexuals, foreigners and anybody else who does not share their opinions. An example of this can be seen here in Lyon, where the St Jean quarter has been terrorised for two years by extreme right wing groups who have been smashing up bars and businesses owned by gays and people of immigrant origins. Locals are beginning to avoid the area at night and tourism is being affected by it. But because it takes two to tango - and two to fight - a long hard look also needs to be taken at their extreme-left wing enemies, and French film director Marc-Aurèle Vecchione has done just that. His 2008 film 'Antifascist skinhead hunters' paints a grim picture of the years-long state of gang warfare between left and right wing skinheads. These groups even dress the same, with a marked preference for Dr. Martens boots and clothes from the Fred Perry and Ben Sherman brands. Shops which sell these items attract both groups, and it appears that Méric was at a private sales event involving clothes from these brands when he got into an argument with others in the shop who were members of right-wing groups. The fight which ensued left him brian-dead and he died yesterday afternoon. Méric, as it turns out, was a hard-left militant who was well known to opposing groups. Both left and right wing groups have incontestably contributed to the climate of hate which led to Méric's killing.
But these groups did not exist in a vacuum, and they were egged on by another guilty party, the organisers and supporters of the 'Manif Pour Tous', the anti-gay marriage group which has been staging inflammatory demonstrations over the last few months designed to provoke violence and the police reaction to it which ensued on several occasions. This organisation's hate-filled and violently homophobic bile was directly responsible for a spate of vicious attacks on homosexuals which hospitalised several of the victims. Just a few weeks ago the MPT's iconic figurehead - Frigide Barjot - addressed a menacing menace to President François Hollande in which she said "Hollande wants blood and he's going to get it". She partially retracted that statement later, but it was too late. These demonstrations attracted members of extreme-right wing groups who caused much of the violence, and Méric's suspected killers - who were arrested yesterday - are said by police to be members of them. It would be naive at best and malicious at worst to suggest that the Manif Pour Tous did not contribute in its own indirect way to Méric's murder by provoking violence and civil disobedience. The killers of Méric were useful, if dangerous, idiots who were manipulated by others and Barjot finally has the blood she promised would flow.
The third group category of people responsible for the deleterious climate in France today is France's political class, which has spent years embroiled in spiteful and violent 'debate', for want of a better word, and mutual insult, all of which has triggered a mimetic reaction in French society. The biggest offenders here at the moment are certain anti-gay marriage members of the right-of-centre UMP opposition party. Some of them, including party leader Jean-François Copé, attended Manif Pour Tous demonstrations knowing full well that they were likely to end in violence, which they then blamed on 'government provocation'. They promised to scrap gay marriage if elected in 2017 and - in a break from republican tradition - some of them even called for demonstrations to continue even though the law has been voted. Some mayors have said that they will refuse to celebrate gay marriages and there have been vague calls from the right about 'continuing the resistance' and 'civil disobedience'. The left has generally been less provocative lately, although they too have a history of inflammatory statements. One example that nobody will forget here was the 2007 call by Ségolène Royal for people to "take to the streets" to protest against the election of Nicolas Sarkozy, who had just trounced her in what was after all a democratic election. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is another left-winger with a reputation for fiery provocation, and his language is peppered with words such as 'revolt', 'revolution' 'a people's uprising' and others. Hardly a week goes by without some politician using words such as 'fascist', 'Nazi', 'collaborator', 'Vichyist', 'gas chambers' and others to describe their opponents and their policies. More sickeningly still they have all, left and right, been using Méric's murder to score cheap political points and recuperate the event since it occured. The atmosphere in French politics has been getting more and more violent over time, with hate-filled diatribes and appeals for civil disobedience by politicians of the right and extreme right finally becoming the norm. They have no shame, and they refuse to accept their part of the responsibility for the social and political climate in which Méric's killing took place.
Finally, bad enough as all this is, yet another element been whipping people up into a frenzy. Its name? The French media. Extremists of all colours crave platforms of expression and media exposure - without which they would be much less effective - and the press has been generously dishing out all the coverage they desire. TV debates featuring politicians who are known to despise each other are common. Viewers lap up these vulgar spectacles, in which politicians insult and shout at each other, walk off the set, treat journalists appallingly and generally behave like the foul-mouthed louts they are. Audience figures are sky-high and everyone is happy. The press publishes sensationalist headlines and interviews with extremists of both left and right, and contentious subjects are the object of countless articles of a polarising nature. The press has also played a part in the climate of hate and fear which led to this week's murder.
The murder of Clément Méric for reasons linked to political hatred was a despicable act, but worse still, it was both predictable and ultimately inevitable due to the underlying reasons which formed the backdrop to it. If French society fails to rein in the excesses of extremist groups, French politicians and the press soon it is only a matter of time before someone else is killed for similar motives.