French government battles intolerance with new public relations campaign


A jobs discrimination poster campaign poster can be seen in the metro in France. Photo courtesy of Eleanor Beardsley

Source: RNS

PARIS (RNS) On a sunny spring morning, an 18-year-old college student wrapped a scarf around her head to feel what it would be like to wear a veil.

“I felt stressed,” said Valentine Cannepyn, who comes from a Christian background and studies at Sciences Po, an elite Paris university. “I felt uncomfortable.”

A few miles north in the gritty suburb of Aubervilliers, a 29-year-old restaurant cook stood outside a state employment office, describing the challenges of finding work.

“When they see the color of my skin, they ask if I want to wash dishes,” said Yacouba Cisse, a Muslim immigrant from Senegal.

Those are sentiments France’s leftist government wants to change, as part of a three-year, $115 million (100 million euro) bid to fight racism and discrimination.

Unveiled in the Paris suburb of Creteil last year, the site of a violent anti-Semitic attack in 2014, it includes an arsenal of proposals, from an Internet fight against hate speech, to launching school and citizen education drives.

In recent weeks, authorities have rolled out their first major communications weapons: a pair of hard-hitting messages against hate speech and discrimination in hiring.

“We cannot just sit and watch rising populism, extremism and radicalism in all its forms, to have this threat in the middle of our republic,” said Gilles Clavreul, head of DILCRA, a ministerial body overseeing the fight against racism and anti-Semitism.

To be sure, France is hardly the only European country grappling with intolerance. Far-right groups are gaining ground across Europe, feeding on the immigration crisis and rising fears of militant Islam. Still in March, the Council of Europe warned that hate speech in France has “become commonplace.”

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