In France, as elsewhere in Europe, the far right kills

The murder of the young anti-fascist activist Clément Méric in France is the tip of a rise in far right violence at the European level.

Astonishment but no surprise at all: the far-right has killed in France as it kills elsewhere in Europe. The young anti-fascist activist Clément Méric died under the blows of skinheads in the center of Paris. Yet who can maintain that such a violent act was not predictable, even predicted?

The murder of Clement is the tip of a rise in far right violence at the European level. The five people arrested for his murder are said to be members of a small extremist group known as Troisième Voie, but from skinhead groups to the "manif pour tous", through to the Front National, the whole French far right has gone along with, legitimised and even generated this violence. 

We know well that Alexandre Gabriac, the leader of the Jeunesses Nationalistes, went to Greece last December to get inspiration from the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn. Virulently anti-Semitic and racist, with a heavy nostalgia for the Third Reich, they combine legal and illegal action, running for elections while at the same time violently assaulting migrants, on a daily basis, especially in the streets of Athens.

As soon as Golden Dawn entered the parliament last May, we have been developing a European solidarity with democrats in Greece, but the neo-Nazis have gone on gaining ground, especially among youth. In France, after his so-called exclusion from the Front National, Alexandre Gabriac has been maintaining close relationships with the FN group at the Regional Council of Rhône-Alpes.

We also know that, in Hungary, the Hungarian Guard, which is a paramilitary militia of the Jobbik party, terrorizes Roma people, often forces them to flee the country, and even regularly murders some of them. The French far right is an ally of Jobbik, which is the cornerstone of the European expansion strategy of the Front National. Together, they founded, in 2009 in Budapest, the "Alliance of European National Movements", of which the BNP is also a part.

We all remember the massacre of the young social-democrats at Utoya, in Norway, during the summer 2011. Already then, youth was the target and the murders were political. Repeating the racist delirium on a European civil war which White Christians should fight against muslims and migrants, the killer has been celebrated as a hero by the fascist blogosphere. The former leader of the FN, Jean-Marie Le Pen then declared that migration, not the killer, was to blame for the massacre,.

In France, the mobilisation against the extension of civil marriage to homosexual couples has provided an opportunity to express all forms of hatred. The echoes of hate speech inside the Assemblée Nationale; the rallies where leaders of democratic and antidemocratic parties walked side by side; the all-too weak condemnations of violent acts which took place at the end of the demonstrations; the welcoming into the protests of all the enemies of democracy, all the racists, all the far right thugs in these rallies, have paved the way to, made possible, allowed, the murder of Clément.

Now, just over a year since the killings by Mohamed Merah, Europe is again turning its attention to France and expecting a worthy response. It is vital that public authorities resume their support for the fight against racism and for democracy, in France as well as at the European level. It is high time to give life to two of the main themes of François Hollande's election campaign: youth, who are hurting the most today, and equality, which has been assaulted by months of a gruesome reactionary mobilisation. Lastly, it is a democratic necessity to ban far right groups responsible for the murder of Clément.

It is also time for a renewed effort by civil society, which has been too passive when opposing the rise in far right in France like elsewhere on our continent. We must tolerate no hate speech, no illegal act, since none of them is innocent. We must not let ourselves impressed by the feeling of might and permissiveness which the enemies of democracy feel because we, the democrats, are the many, in France as elsewhere in Europe.

What is at stake is clear: liberty, democracy and life. Let us ensure that Clément is the last one to fall under the blows of the far right.

Benjamin Abtan is president of the European Grassroots Movement Against Racism

Protesters hold a banner reading "Clement M. assassinated by fascists / No forgetting, no forgiving" at a demonstration in Toulouse. Photograph: Getty Images

Benjamin Abtan is the President of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM).

Hamzah al Zobi
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Meet the Syrians using education to escape the refugee camps

On the bus to university with Syrian refugees in Jordan. 

The bus to Zarqa University leaves Jordan’s largest refugee camp at 7am sharp. The journey is one of the day’s highlights for the Syrian students who ride this route - a chance to plan weekend get-togethers, bemoan heavy course loads and even enjoy the occasional school-bus style sing-along. It’s also their daily ticket out of Za’atari camp and a means of escaping the dreary realities of refugee life.

“We are the lucky ones. Most had to give up their dreams of higher education” says 19-year-old Reema Nasser Al Hamad, whose family fled to Jordan five years ago when bombs destroyed her home in Dara’a, Syria. She shudders to think of the alternatives: aimless days spent sitting in a crowded caravan, or early marriage. “After the war, students in Syria lost their cities, their opportunities and their futures, so many of the girls just married when they got here. There’s a huge difference between the lives of those who study and those who don’t.”

Despite missing two years of school, Reema (pictured below) was able to pass her exams before securing a Saudi-funded scholarship to study Pharmacy at Zaraq’ University. “In Syria, I’d planned to do medicine and be a doctor because I always had high grades. There are fewer choices for us here but I’m happy to be studying at all,” she says. Hamza al Zobi, who’s studying Pharmacy on an the EU-funded EDU-Syria programnme, says young Syrians are hungry to learn. “We all have friends and relatives who didn’t get this chance and we feel so upset for them. If they’re not well educated, how can they go back and do the right thing for our country?”

More than a quarter of 18-24 year olds in Syria were enrolled in higher education when the war broke out. “Based on data provided by UNHCR we assess that around 20,000 young Syrians in Jordan would qualify for vocational education and higher education,” says Job Arts, Programme Manager Education and Youth, EU Delegation to Jordan, which is supporting some 1800 Syrians and disadvantaged Jordanians on degree courses in Jordan.

“While the number of places for Syrian students to pursue their education has increased dramatically over the past few years, there are still many more interested students than spaces available for study,” says Sarah Dryden-Peterson, non-resident Fellow at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. “Without these possibilities, young Syrians will lose the kind of hope that is essential to productive futures.”

According to the Jordan Response Platform for the Syria Crisis, 1,250 Syrian youth were in higher education in Jordan in 2016. Building on commitments made by the international community at the London Conference on Syria last year, the Jordanian government hopes to secure funding to increase access to tertiary education and vocational training at the upcoming conference in Brussels this April.

“Jordan views higher education from a strategic point of view, specifically in terms of providing the Syrian youth with the education, skill and knowledge that will allow the opportunity to be part of rebuilding their country once the current situation comes to an end,” says Feda Gharaibeh, Director, Humanitarian Relief Coordination Unit at the Jordanian Ministry of Planning & International Cooperation.

Reema plans to return to Syria when the war is over. “After graduation a lot of students want to go to Europe. That would be fine for me too if it’s just to do a masters or doctorate, but then I want to go back to Syria and use what I’ve learnt to help my people.” Now four semesters into her course, she is making good progress but says adapting to the Jordanian education system was a challenge. “It’s really difficult for us. Classes are taught in English and the teaching style is different. They also have a lot more exams here.”

Only the brightest stand a chance of securing a scholarship but many young Syrians have seen their grades plummet after missing years of schooling. For, some, it’s too late to catch up. Accountancy student Ibrahim Mohammed, 23, came to Jordan in 2013 with his younger brother Khalil, now 19, who works in a print shop. “He stopped studying when he was 14. He didn’t even have a chance to get his high school certificate,” says Ibrahim.

Attempts to bridge the gap through open and distance learning programmes aren’t always effective. “It’s not a tool that is frequently used in the education environment in the Middle East,” explains Arts. Refugee students' access to electricity, internet connections, computers and space to study can be in short supply. Moreover, many students seek the escapism that a university education offers. “In our dialogue with parents and students, we often hear the phrase ‘being normal again’,” Arts adds.

Hamzah tries to help fellow students achieve this in his role as representative for the Syrian community at Zarqa University. He and Reema are part of a team that offers advice to new students and support for those from poorer families living in the camps. “There are 900 Syrian students here and each one has a different story of suffering,” says Hamzah, who organises group trips to restaurants and fairgrounds, helping to create a sense of regular student life. “It makes us forget what we are,” explains Reema.

During term time, she prefers to stay with her uncle in Mafraq, a city nearby. It’s hard to study in Za’atari. As soon as the power comes on at 5pm, her brothers switch on the TV, making it difficult to concentrate in the cramped caravan they share. There’s nowhere else to go; the camp is dangerous at night, particularly for young women. It’s even more crowded since the arrival of her baby sister. Reema remembers how her mother sobbed when she learned of the pregnancy, worried about bringing another child into the makeshift world of the camp.

But in five years a lot has changed. “In Syria, I had never left my village; now I feel there is another world to know,” says Reema. Like many Syrian students, she worries about life after university, particularly if they stay in Jordan where employment opportunities remain restricted for Syrian refugees. “It seems like work is forbidden to us Syrians and without a job we can’t take control of our lives. We’re studying hard but with no prospects,” says Hamzah. Few can see beyond graduation. “The future is opaque for us,” he adds, “We’re just living day by day.”

To date, the Jordanian government has issued some 39,000 works permits out of the 200,000 it pledged to make available for Syrians during the London Conference last February. However, with these opportunities built around low-income roles, primarily in the construction, agriculture, and textile manufacture sectors, the way for Syrian university graduates in Jordan still seems barred.

“Jordan is a small country with limited job opportunities,” says Ghaith Rababah Head of Projects & International Cooperation Unit (PICU) at the Ministry of Higher Education & Scientific Research. “Maybe the market will be better able to absorb educated Syrians at a later stage.”

In the meantime, higher education offers young Syrians a semblance of the security and stability their lives otherwise lack, Rababah continues. Given the opportunity to “use their talents for something good”, he adds, young people placed in difficult situations are less likely to fall prey to extremist ideologies and be “tricked into committing terrorist acts".