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Issue 12 – Assumption 2022

The Jungle

How to Spend an Election Sunday

On Paris.


When Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission was published in 2015, it quickly became the subject of a controversy that never really was settled. The book presents a strange political coalition in the 2022 French presidential elections: the Socialists ally with the Muslim Brotherhood, knowing that there is no other way to defeat Marine Le Pen and the National Front at the ballot box. Respectable people find that they ultimately prefer a Islamist leader to a right-wing nativist, a political evolution that since the book’s publication Houellebecq has defended as “realistic” (even if his timeline is overly condensed). In the real 2022 elections, however, the anti-Le Pen coalition rallied around incumbent President Emmanuel Macron. And instead of an Islamist shift, Macron himself moved far to the right on issues of immigration and integration—perhaps undercutting Houellebecq’s and many others’ prognostications. I spent the day of the elections in Saint-Denis, a heavily Muslim northern suburb of Paris, and found not a revolution, but a general apathy about France’s political landscape.

Saint-Denis has a bad reputation and is normally in the running for the highest crime rate in France (often in the first position). It has also become synonymous with France’s immigration problems and is where some say a new France is being born. It is largely populated by immigrants and children of immigrants, particularly from Africa and the Middle East. Given the heated rhetoric around immigration in French politics, it seemed like an interesting place this April to spend election day for France’s presidential runoff between Macron and Le Pen. Macron evidently had the same idea and visited the area several days before the election, which resulted in a photo op where he put on boxing gloves and sparred with a local boxing instructor. Macron was targeting areas that voted for far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon to prevent them from switching to the far-right Le Pen or staying home. Mélenchon got about sixty percent of the vote in Saint-Denis in the election’s first round to Macron’s sixteen percent. Macron’s visit must have paid off: he got nearly eighty percent in the second round to Le Pen’s twenty-one percent.

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About the author

Samuel Sweeney