French far-right star compares praying Muslims to Nazi occupiers
(Photo: Muslims in Perpignan pray in public after a Muslim youth was murdered, May 28, 2005/Georges Bartoli)
Marine Le Pen has put paid to the idea she would put a softer face on France’s National Front for elections in 2012 with anti-Muslim comments that have aroused a storm of criticism. Le Pen, the likely next far-right challenger for the French presidency, compared overflowing mosques in France with the Nazi occupation — remarks indicative of a drift to the right in parts of Europe that could let the National Front eat into support for the ruling conservative UMP party in 2012.
Le Pen, the frontrunner to succeed her father Jean-Marie Le Pen as head of the party, made the comments on a television show last Thursday with about 3.4 million viewers watching. On Monday she dismissed any suggestion of a gaffe. “My comments were absolutely not a blunder, but a completely thought-out analysis,” she told a news conference, adding she was merely saying out loud what everyone thought privately.
Given support of 12 to 14 percent in recent opinion polls, Marine Le Pen is regarded as more electable than her father, who was convicted in 1990 for inciting racial hatred. But her remarks suggest that far from moderating the party line, she will go all out to outgun conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy to secure the slice of the French electorate that opposes high immigration.
(Photo: Marine Le Pen at National Front headquarters in Nanterre near Paris December 13, 2010/Jacky Naegelen)
“The National Front has changed: it’s more dangerous than before,” said an editorial in the left-leaning Liberation daily after mainstream politicians and Muslim leaders slammed Le Pen’s comments. “Given a lick of paint by Marine, xenophobia is back in the spotlight.”
On Thursday, she told a party meeting that after a steady rise in the number of Islamic veils and burqas worn in France, home to five million Muslims, the crowds praying outside mosques were akin to an occupation.
Her remarks chime with a growing right-wing mood among voters in Europe, where far-right parties are taking up worries that high immigration facilitates Islamic fundamentalist terror cells and makes tight labour markets even tighter. Since France banned burqas, which cloak a woman’s face and body, calls for bans have been heard elsewhere in Europe, most loudly in the Netherlands where populist politician Geert Wilders wants to tighten rules on immigration and ban the Koran.
In France the National Front scored a strong result in regional elections in early 2010, even after Sarkozy offered tough solutions of his own on immigration and crime. The party is enjoying a revival reminiscent of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s surprise showing in the 2002 presidential election when he got through to the second round before losing to conservative Jacques Chirac.
(Photo: German troops march past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 14 June 1940/German Federal Archive)
Marine Le Pen’s remarks on Muslims provoked angry comment. Several UMP politicians spoke out against them, and government spokesman Francois Baroin called them “one more provocation”. Veteran socialist Laurent Fabius called them shameful and France’s anti-racist group MRAP filed a lawsuit against Marine Le Pen for incitement to racial hatred.
“These remarks constitute a serious attack on the dignity of Muslims in France and are synonymous with an incitement to hate and violence,” France’s Muslim Council (CFCM) said in a statement. CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, also protested: “The Crif is outraged by the comments of Marine Le Pen comparing prayers in the street to the Occupation, which were made only to stigmatise the Muslim community. These remarks amount to a double and dishonest manipulation of history and language.”
Analysts view Le Pen as much closer to Wilders than far-right leaders of her father’s generation, but note that to keep her party faithful from drifting towards the UMP she needs to cling more than ever to hardline principles. “Le Pen has realised the limits of de-demonising the National Front — it works on the outside but less so with her militants,” analyst Sylvain Crepon told Liberation.
(Photo: Jean-Marie Le Pen with a campaign poster that reads “No to Islamism. Youth with Le Pen” and shows a map of France covered by an Algerian flag and minarets, March 7, 2010/Jean-Paul Pelissier)
Analyst Dominique Reynie said that by reinforcing her base, Le Pen would bite into Sarkozy’s first and second-round scores if he seeks reelection in 2012. “If the National Front gets a high score, that means it has taken votes from the left. Those may not necessarily go to the candidate on the right afterwards,” he wrote in a column.