Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 December 2020
This article traces the influence of Front National (FN) on the transformation of mainstream French narratives of laïcité since 1989, with particular attention to education policy. It argues that the FN’s right-wing populist rhetoric, particularly the systematic securitisation of Islam as a threat to the ‘people’, facilitated the more widespread reframing of laïcité as a Republican defence mechanism, operating primarily through the school system. Laïcité was increasingly deployed in mainstream discourses and legislative measures to address two interrelated security concerns: the immediate safety of the school by the promotion of neutrality, and the overall wellbeing of the Republic via the prevention of radicalisation. Analysing this process in two specific periods (1989–2004 and 2005–2019), the article demonstrates that the FN’s populist agenda came to be in a symbiotic relationship with the centre-right and centre-left parties. While established parties gradually incorporated the FN’s securitisation narrative in their policymaking, the FN went through a process of ‘normalisation’ by claiming ownership of laïcité as a way to frame its anti-Islam stance in a more acceptable Republican discourse.
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