France’s rising right-wing National Front party thinks it might stand to gain in popularity after the armed attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine and continuing hostage crises that have killed more than a dozen people in and around Paris since Wednesday.
Earlier today Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder and onetime face of the party, tweeted a black-and-white photo of his daughter, presumed 2017 presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen, with the words “Keep Calm and Vote Le Pen.”
The messaging suggests that putting the National Front in power would help address what the party believes to be the root cause of the attacks: Muslim immigration to France. In a statement following the attacks, Marine Le Pen herself was less direct, though she spoke of a “war” that extremists had declared on the country.
Appearing on French television, Le Pen reiterated her support for a “battery of measures,” including the possibility of revoking French citizenship from certain individuals, greater control over France’s borders, and stronger police powers to conduct surveillance efforts.
She also tweeted her support for a referendum on the death penalty (abolished in France in 1981), adding #France2, the name of the channel she’d appeared on, as a hashtag.
“Putting in place the means to protect our country and our compatriots is the right of all the citizens, and more than anything the responsibility of all politicians,” Le Pen said in a French-language video still at the top of the National Front’s website. “For myself, I intend to assume this imperious responsibility, in order to permit France to defend herself before this war declared on it.”
“Finally, I want to emphasise that no one wants to confuse our Muslim compatriots, attached to our nation and its values, with those who believe themselves justified in killing in the name of Islam,” Le Pen continued. But she qualified even this bit of caution, saying that “the refusal of this blind association cannot, on the other hand, excuse either inaction or denial. That would be the worst service to all Frenchmen.”
Some of her party members were less guarded.
“Islam has a tendency to create fanatics more than any other religion. The facts on the ground prove this,” the party’s national treasurer, Wallerand de Saint-Just, told Al Jazeera America.
The National Front made record gains in elections last May. Earning nearly 25% of the vote, the party gained control of 11 local councils, two senate seats, and 23 of the 74 seats allocated to France in the European Parliament.
Stéphane Ravier, then elected senator and mayor of one of Marseille’s sectors, today tweeted an image from the National Front’s 2010 campaign literature. The drawing shows France’s geographic outline draped in an Algerian flag and sprouting minarets. “The political class has demonized the National Front because it was correct ahead of its time. The French, sadly, are paying the price,” he tweeted.
Analysts are concerned that France will only be more receptive to this kind of rhetoric in the wake of this week’s attacks.
“Of all political parties, the Front National stands to gain most from this atrocity,” Jim Shields, head of French studies at Aston University in Birmingham, England, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “Public agreement with the FN’s ideas has been rising steadily and this event will play into the party’s anti-immigration, anti-Islam agenda.”
Marine Le Pen has sought to clean up the National Front’s image as a racist political party. “The devil’s cloak that we were forced to wear has been removed,” she told the BBC’s Paris correspondent last month.
But the National Front was conspicuously not invited to a silent march planned to honour the victims of the attack on Sunday in Paris. Its exclusion was vividly denounced by Marine Le Pen, who said that barring “a party that represents 25 per cent of French turns this national unity into a huge political sham,” according to Le Parisien.
Even in the first few days after the attack, divisions are opening up over French society’s response to it — rifts that the country’s popular far-right believes it can exploit.
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