France's National Front to sue over official's response to racist remark

Justice ministry says the far-right party will also be investigated after a member compared justice minister to a monkey

France's far-right party says it will sue Justice Minister Christiane Taubira after its former municipal elections candidate compared her to a monkey.

France's far-right National Front (FN) party announced this week that it will sue the nation's justice minister, Christiane Taubira, for her response to a racial remark lobbed against her by the FN's own municipal election candidate, who compared Taubira, a self-identifying black woman, to a monkey.

Anne-Sophie Leclere, the FN's candidate in the March municipal elections for the northern municipality of Rethel, was suspended last week, a party spokesman told Al Jazeera, after she posted a photo of Taubira to Facebook next to an image of a monkey, then telling TV channel France-2 that she would "prefer to see (Taubira) swinging in a tree than to see her in government."

Taubira responded to Leclere's racial epithet, saying it was "mortifying and lethal."

"It's blacks swinging from branches, Arabs (travelling illegally to France) by sea, gays in the Seine and Jews in the oven, etcetera," Taubira told French media about what she said are the hostile and racist attitudes of the FN.

The FN called Taubira's response an affront to the party, and said it will sue her.

"One should question the qualifications of Madame Taubira to remain the Justice Minister of all French people, amid this troubling transgression against republican values," the FN said in a release.

The party's vice president Florian Philippot told radio station Europe 1 Monday that a public figure like Taubira must remain "cool-blooded," even in the face of racial epithets.

"The FN took responsibility (for Leclere's actions) immediately, while other parties never act at all," Philippot said.

A spokeswoman for the justice ministry told Al Jazeera that the FN had not yet filed a suit — adding that the party often threatens lawsuits — and that public prosecutors have launched an investigation into Leclere's comments on Taubira. 

"The focus is on the FN now, and not on the minister of justice," she said. 

Still, a spokesman from the FN's legal team, who spoke anonymously on behalf of the party, said the suit "will be filed in the next few days."

"When we announce something, we always do it," he said. 

Other Facebook shares on Leclere's website included an anti-gay marriage sign and one showing a black French woman, with a sign saying that she is giving birth to her 17th child.

Taubira, 61, was born in the northern South American French territory of Guiana, and has been an outspoken voice on race in post-colonial France, having penned the book Slavery Explained to My Daughter in 2006. 

Recent popularity polls show that the FN stands to win a number of municipal elections across the country, as the party's protectionist economic policy draws in members of the electorate frustrated with the country's flailing economy

A racism above law and class

Immigrant advocates in France say that although France has laws against hate speech, including racist speech, the legal system is not enough to combat the racism faced by Taubira and France's other residents of color. 

"We believe that the legal system is not enough to combat racism," Houria Bouteldja, spokeswoman for anti-racist political movement Les Indigenes de La Republique — The Indigenous of the Republic — and leading voice on the rights of France's people of color told Al Jazeera.  

"As for the rampant Islamophobia in France today, it's written into the law itself," she added. 

In 2004, for example, under the administration of former President Jacques Chirac, Paris banned "conspicuous" signs of religious affiliation — largely the veils worn by some Muslim women — at public schools.

Bouteldja said that although the FN was implicated in Leclere's comments, France's leftist parties support what she calls Islamophobic, anti-immigrant legislation that is embedded in the French legal system. 

Bouteldja's political movement was "upset" by Taubira's acceptance of a post in the socialist government, after the left helped to support an intensification of France's anti-immigrant climate, especially since Taubira has been a leading voice on post-colonialism. 

"For us, a French Socialist government is still a colonial government," Bouteldja said, noting that the administration of Francois Hollande has fortified France's traditional intervention in the affairs of its former African colonies

"Still, we denounce her mistreatment," Bouteldja said of the hate speech against Taubira. 

Bouteldja noted that Taubira is not the only high-ranking official in the West who has been the target of racial epithets. U.S. President Barack Obama infamously faced a similarly racist act of PhotoShop. Right-wing racists also infamously hurled bananas at Italy's integration minister, the country's first black minister. 

For Bouteldja, Taubira is proof that "racism has to do with class, but it also transcends class. Obama is a head of state and he was called a monkey. Bush was never called a monkey. People might comment on his character or his administration, but he was never insulted in quite the same way."

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Europe, France
Race & Ethnicity

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