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RACISM

France’s first mixed-race Joan of Arc hit by torrent of racist abuse

The French city of Orleans has for the first time named a mixed-race teenager to play folk heroine Joan of Arc for annual festivities, prompting a torrent of racist abuse from far-right social media users.

France's first mixed-race Joan of Arc hit by torrent of racist abuse
AFP/screengrab Est Republicaine

Mathilde Edey Gamassou was chosen among 250 girls Monday to play Joan for a spring festival marking the victory of the Catholic warrior saint in breaking the English siege of Orleans in 1429.

The 17-year-old, whose father is from Benin and whose mother is Polish, is set to ride horseback through the central city dressed in armour for an annual celebration dating back nearly six centuries.

But the announcement has been met with a flurry of posts on Twitter and on far-right websites branding her nomination an exercise in “diversity
propaganda” and an attempt to re-write French history.

“Joan of Arc was white,” read one Twitter post. “We are white and proud of being white, don't change our history.”

Another comment, on anti-Muslim site Resistance Republicaine, complained:

“Next year, Joan of Arc will be in a burqa.”

Women's equality minister Marlene Schiappa stepped into the row on Wednesday, offering her support to the student.

“The racist hatred of fascists has no place in the French republic,” she tweeted.





'Chosen for who she is'

Benedicte Baranger, president of the committee in charge of picking a girl for the honour, said she was saddened by some of the reactions.

“This girl was chosen for who she is, an interesting person and a lively spirit,” Baranger said.

“She responds to our four criteria — a resident of Orleans for 10 years, a student in an Orleans high school, and a Catholic who gives her time to others.

“She will deliver our French history to everyone, as have previous Joans before her.”

Orleans mayor Olivier Carre also rushed to the teenager's defence.

“In 2018 as for 589 years, the people of Orleans will celebrate Joan of Arc played by a young woman who shows her courage, faith and vision,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Mathilde has all these qualities.”

Aside from her school work, Gamassou is a student of opera at the prestigious Orleans Conservatory and is learning to fence.

When asked by the Est Republicaine newspaper whether it was important that this year's Joan of Arc was mixed-race Mathilde shrugged her shoulders and said: “It's not really important. She can be white or mixed race, but what is important is that she's French.”

The end of the brutal six-month Siege of Orleans was a turning point in the Hundred Years War between France and England and the first major French victory.

Over the course of the war between 1337 and 1453, England lost nearly all
its territories on the other side of the channel.

Joan of Arc, who was burned alive at the stake in 1431, is a heroine for many in France but is particularly venerated by the far-right as a symbol of national resistance.

COURT

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence, or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media businesses it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.

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