The death of 17-year-old Muslim teenager Nahel Merzouk at the hands of the French police in Paris on June 27 has triggered widespread violent protests across France.

French far-right leaders are blaming immigrants, particularly Muslims, as the cause of the ongoing violence and for the wider problems faced by the white French population.

Interestingly, the French far right has received backing of Hindutva supporters in India, with the latter’s social media accounts vocally supporting action and even violence against protesters.

Long-standing questions of racism

Merzouk, who allegedly attempted to drive away after being stopped by police for speeding, was reportedly fired upon by one of the police officers in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre. This led to the minor’s death. Merzouk, a Muslim, was a French youth of North African descent.

The video of Merzouk being shot at by the police officer has sparked violent protests and riots in several French cities over the past few days. The violence has caused at least one death so far. Additionally, more than 500 law enforcement officers have been injured and there has been large scale damage to property. The police have arrested over 2,400 people so far in connection with the violence.

Merzouk’s death, reportedly at the hands of the French police, has brought to the fore long-standing questions about alleged police brutality in France as well as allegations of racism and discrimination in the country, especially towards immigrants of North African origin, most of whom are Muslim. France, a member of the European Union, has a sizable Muslim immigrant population with many of the community’s members having their origins in former French colonies in North Africa such as Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Additionally, there are also a smaller number of refugees and asylum seekers especially from West Asian nations such as Syria.

Far-right gaining traction

Over the past decade, France has seen a rise of the far-right with political leaders such as Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour gaining traction in electoral politics.

Several French far right leaders have blamed immigrants, especially Muslims of North African origin, for France allegedly losing its French cultural identity which according to them was was on markers such as Christianity and Whiteness. Such leaders have been propagating the so-called Great Replacement concept, a racist conspiracy theory which claims that the White, French population is being culturally and demographically replaced by non-White populations through a combination of migration and falling birth rates.

In line with this Great Replacement conspiracy theory, some French far-right leaders such as Zemmour are alleging that the ongoing riots have been caused mainly by “immigration”. “If riots ignite the country today, it is because of judicial laxity and anarchic immigration which have left neighbourhoods drifting,” Laurent Jacobelli, another French far-right leader, claimed on Sunday.

Hindutva extends support

Meanwhile, on Saturday, while responding to a tweet urging Adityanath to help France control the riots, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s office hailed the so-called Yogi model of law and order maintenance as a model that France should adopt.

The social media account Adityanath’s office responded to was labelled misleadingly. It does not belong to the well-known cardiologist in Britain of the same name.

Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath's office responding to the tweet
Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath's office responding to the tweet

BJP members such as the party’s Uttar Pradesh social media unit co-convener Harsh Chaturvedi and National Spokesperson Shehzad Poonawala hailed Adityanath. Hindi language news channel News18 Uttarakhand also reported citing the misleading account that Adityanath’s help had been sought to control the riots in France. Similarly, Republic Bharat, another Hindi language news channel, also highlighted Adityanath’s so-called model of controlling violence, its supposed popularity and how there were purported demands for the model to be implemented in France.

Since Adityanath came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, extrajudicial executions have risen in the state. More significantly, while Muslims constitute less than 20% of the state’s population, around 37% of those killed in these so-called encounters were from the community, police data shows.

Therefore, citing this so-called law and order maintenance model of Adityanath assumes significance because several social media accounts seemingly supportive of Hindutva are, like French far-right politicians, blaming Muslims for the riots.

Shefali Vaidya is a columnist at the pro-Modi government e-magazine, Swarajya
A Hindutva supporter linked to Adityanath’s Hindutva organisation, the Hindu Yuva Vahini.
A member of the Friends of the BJP, the party's overseas membership drive.
A BJP-leaning author opines that France would be better off taking in labourers from India rather than North Africa.

Citing Western white supremacist social media accounts, some Indian news channels have also projected the ongoing looting and violence in France as being perpetrated by Muslim immigrants against the police.

Similarly, Organiser, the mouthpiece of the Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, also focused on the alleged role of “Islamists” in the ongoing riots.

Backed by Hindutva supporters

Some social media accounts seemingly supportive of Hindutva are also vocally supporting the French far right in using violence to oppose protestors.

Some pro-Hindutva social media accounts are also praising Poland’s stricter stance against immigration and refugees, particularly Muslims, and urging France to follow suit.

In a similar vein, Zee News reported, citing a video posted by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, that asylum seekers and “being liberal” had caused rioting in France. In a video posed on Saturday, Morawiecki – who belongs to a Polish right-wing political party – had alluded that Poland, a European nation like France, was not facing riots because of stricter immigration policies.

In spite of this flood of support from Hindutva supporters, however, there has been no reaction from the French far right who, for the most part, seem to be unaware of the popularity they command in India.