03 May French Elections. Hope?
Hope in the Face of the New Normal: A Culture of Fear, Hostility, Scapegoating and Cynicism
Almost a year ago, I woke up in my cherished Scotland to the unexpected news that the Great British people had chosen to leave the EU. We had voted against peace, unity and hospitality. We had chosen division. It is no understatement to say that I was heartbroken and a part of my limited faith in humanity died forever. Then again, 6 months ago, I watched from afar as Donald Trump was elected to the United States presidency. The vote of so many of my fellow Christians screamed that political allegiance, the American dream, and a right to guns and complete security alike (pause for irony?) mattered more than than the dignity of the the most vulnerable and downtrodden (the poor, the immigrants, the refugees, the disabled, the sexually abused, religious minorities, the LGBTQ community, the list could go on…).
This morning, it dawned on me that there is a very real possibility that on Sunday night, I will go to sleep in a country that has elected Marine Le Pen and the ‘Front National’ to power. “What kind of world are we bringing our child into?” my husband asked nervously, as we prepared breakfast together this morning. “What would happen to Café Bienvenue?” I asked of the social business I am building, around the social and professional integration of refugees.
In under a year, we have become so immune to a culture of fear, hostility, scapegoating and cynicism, that it has become the new normal. Where are the millions of people who took to the streets to march in outrage against the National Front when they made it to the second round of elections in 2002? “What’s the worst that could happen if the FN is elected?” we ask. I’m guilty of the question too, so let’s pause to think about it for a moment, not to make us fearful any further, but wiser.
Well first, how about expulsing innocent people— who desperately need our protection to escape from violent conflict and persecution— straight to their deaths? Or scapegoating minorities and creating a culture of brutality towards them? Or leaving the EU— an alliance that has been successful in its ultimate objective of peace, by making it economically and politically impossible for its member states to go to war against one another, in order to protect us from the devastation that would be caused by another world war? None of this is surprising considering that this is a political party with a history of holocaust denial… world wars aren’t so bad, are they? And that is to say nothing of the financial consequences of leaving the euro.
In another scenario, all those who didn’t vote in the far right would take to the streets to object these promised measures. Profound civil unrest. Civil war even, in the future. We’ll want to move abroad (where our money will be worthless, by the way). But nobody will want us. We’ll be the refugees. And the irony will be that nobody will want to take us in. France, will be all alone (like the United Kingdom is now), even in the face of threats from abroad.
Or maybe, these promised measures won’t come to pass in the foreseeable future. Instead it will all be talk. Slowly seeping into our minds that foreigners are out to get us, responsible for all that is wrong in our lives, and colonising us from the inside. Until a future generation decides to turn the brutality against minorities into another holocaust.
By the way, the ‘seeping into our minds’ part is working already. Though I feel French, contribute to French society, have a French passport, married a Frenchman and am about to have a French baby, I’m not ‘ethnically’ French, whatever that means. And even though I’m more than fifty percent ‘ethnically’ European, I’m not quite… white. I could even be mistaken for an Arab, a favourite minority of the FN. “Am I welcome here?” I catch myself wondering.
“What’s the worst that could happen if the FN is elected?” we ask. Can you see what’s wrong with that question— with wondering about the worst that could happen? It means we’ve lost hope.
Pope Francis recently gave an outstanding Ted talk called ‘Why the only future worth building includes everyone’, and if you haven’t heard it yet, you’re missing out. His hope for the future is clear: “I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other. None of us is an island— an autonomous and independent ‘I’— separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone.”
But why does hope matter so much? Pope Francis reminded me, “To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavour to all aspects of life. And it can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness.”
Hope matters to me as a Christian, because it is the name of a future that has not given into darkness. And this morning, amidst all of my anxiety, God reminded me of the hope He has promised— a future without darkness. Even if on Sunday, we collectively choose to give into fear and hopelessness and turn our backs on those who most need our protection— even if we choose amnesia in the face of the lessons learnt when Europe was a battlefield, and even if we choose to take 72 years of peace in Europe for granted— God still promises that one day, He will bring about a plan for the future that is full of light— a future in which every wrong is made right. And because hope is the name of that future, we cannot give up praying and fighting for what is right. We cannot afford to ask questions like “What’s the worst that could happen?” (That is just one reason why it is so absolutely awful that Christine Boutin, who leads the Christian Democratic Party, has given her support to the FN).
As a Christian, I hold on tight to a promised citizenship in a land of everlasting peace (John 16:33), where justice will roll on like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24). If we find our hope in the promise of true justice, we cannot become immune to injustice. If God has promised us the best, we should not be settling for the worst, either between now and Sunday, or on Monday morning, whatever the outcome.