France’s prostitution ban is a sign of a deep historical shift in French politics
Yesterday, France adopted the “Nordic Model” for attacking the sex trade, making it illegal to buy sex. As ever, supporters of the attack denied that prostitution was being outlawed – for example, in response to my tweet on the news, I received this:
@PornPanic France is not banning prostitution actually quite the contrary. We are banning the buying of sex and de-criminilising prostitutes
— Stephanie Lamy (@WCM_JustSocial) April 6, 2016
But it takes a truly Orwellian mindset to believe that one can outlaw the buying of a service without hurting those who sell it. This is, of course, designed to hurt sex workers. The bigotry of the anti-prostitution movement is there for all to see. Sex workers are not divided on this: they are clear, whenever they are listened to, that sex work must be entirely decriminalised. Impartial observers – such as Amnesty International, who recently adopted a policy of decriminalisation – have not found this a tricky, two-sided argument. It is well known that criminalising any aspect of the trade clearly harms sex workers.
So let us not treat prohibitionists as misguided people who care, any more than we should waste breath over whether it is right or wrong to lynch black people or gas Jews. Anti-prostitution campaigners are bigots, plain and simple. They seek to attack what they hate and fear. And this bigotry born of fear and loathing, that is rising in France, is part of a far bigger historical shift. France is sinking back into fascism.
What is disconcerting is that, unlike last time around, the driving force of French fascism is the the political left. A few days ago, for example, French Socialist government minister Laurence Rossignol said that women who wore veils were like “negroes who supported slavery”. The anti-veil law was presented with a thin progressive veneer, using ‘secularism’ as an excuse. But France’s secularism is not the religious freedom of the Enlightenment. It is an opportunity to viciously abuse minorities.
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And as the sex work commentator Laura Agustín wrote on Facebook yesterday, this anti-prostitution law, too, is rooted in France’s deep racism: “In France where more than half those who sell sex are migrants the law is overtly anti-migration. The message is if you want to do this – Leave.” France has always been one of the worst places in Europe to be an immigrant. Now the French war on immigrants is getting vicious, and the left is at the forefront of it. The job of far-right leader Marine Le Pen is done: who needs the far-right when fascism is just as comfortably at home on the left?
The collapse of the progressive left is not just a French thing. It is no coincidence that, in the UK, a Labour-led parliamentary inquiry is also trying to ban prostitution. Open anti-sex attitudes, and veiled racist attitudes are now commonplace on the political left everywhere: the recent attack on a student wearing dreadlocks – simply because the student was white – shows the rot is there on the American left too.
As someone who once felt at home on the left, this change in the political landscape is disconcerting. The left’s shift towards fascist attitudes forms the heart of my new book, Porn Panic! Liberal values of equality, liberty and reason are collapsing across the political spectrum. France’s prostitution ban, and that of the veil represent dark clouds rising over the western world.