(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.