WASHINGTON POST Struggles to Present Marine Le Pen
Print Friendly and PDF

The Washington Post is a big supporter of extreme diversity and other liberal causes like refugee resettlement. On Monday, it presented a curiously mixed smorgasbord on French politics. The front page below the fold had a piece on France’s Marine Le Pen, noting her “gentler nationalism” in the headline. The photo was quite flattering — and the media can smear anyone they dislike with a crappy picture, but didn’t in this case.

The online version of the article, however, had a far more incendiary headline about the leader of the National Front: A confederacy of xenophobes in Europe?

The article contained the usual liberal assumptions that those on the right are xenophobic and suffer from “Islamophobia” (an accusation created by Islamists to smear Westerners who understand the threat of jihadists).

Still, the biased article was balanced by a Q & A with Le Pen where she could respond to the various charges (included below). She wants national sovereignty returned to France and believes immigration should be ended because of the conflict it engenders.

Unsurprisingly, the Post didn’t mention the growing problem of Islamic violence in France, where dangerous Muslim neighborhoods are Zo Go Zones which white French people avoid if they care about their safety.

A confederacy of xenophobes in Europe?, Washington Post, April 13, 2014

PARIS — From her nondescript offices in the Paris suburbs, ­Marine Le Pen — the blond, hazel-eyed face of France’s far right — is leading the charge to build a new alliance of European nationalists, this time by blitzing the ballot box.

A 45-year-old lawyer who wants to halt immigration, Le Pen led France’s National Front to historic gains in local elections last month. She did it by destigmatizing the party co-founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, her 85-year-old father, who once called the Nazi gas chambers a mere ­”detail” of history and lost five bids for the French presidency.

In appearances across the country, the younger Le Pen is rolling out a more tempered brand of nationalism that has become a new model across Europe, rejecting her father’s overt racism and playing down the party’s former links to Nazi collaborators. All the while, she is tapping into the rising economic despair of a nation as well as a backlash against the European Union, the 28-country bloc headquartered in Brussels.

Now she is training her sights on a larger prize. From Sweden to Austria, Britain to Italy, nationalist and far-right parties are poised to make record gains next month in elections for the European Parliament. Rather than see their power diluted, Le Pen is seeking to unite a variety of such parties into an extraordinary coalition of anti-E.U. nationalists.

Together, she said, they would work to turn back the clock on the integration and open borders that have defined post-World War II Europe. “You judge a tree by its fruit,” she said last week in her office, a statuette of the Greek goddess of justice resting on a shelf above her. “And the fruits of the E.U. are rotten.”

But these are, after all, nationalists, and forging an international alliance of xenophobes is proving to be just as hard as it sounds. On a continent riddled with old grudges and the ghosts of battles past, working together — for some, anyway — means setting aside centuries-old animosities.

Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, for instance, remains locked in a war of words with its counterparts in Romania and Slovakia over Hungarian-speaking regions in those countries that date to the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Far-right Italians, meanwhile, are at odds with Austria’s Freedom Party over the fate of Alto Adige, a largely German-speaking enclave in northern Italy that has been the site of a political tug of war for years.

But there is also a lingering question about just how much certain parties have truly changed. Indeed, even as Le Pen and her European partners seek to shed their image as far-right extremists, their words have often seemed to undermine that effort.

Le Pen’s closest ally, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, sparked outrage at home last month after fiercely promising his faithful that he would work toward having “fewer Moroccans” in the country. Last week, the Austrian Freedom Party’s Andreas Mölzer pulled out of his campaign for reelection to the European Parliament after calling the diverse bloc “a conglomerate of Negroes” whose regulations were worse than Germany’s Third Reich.

But unlike her father, who was accused of being anti-Semitic, Le Pen has been accused of espousing Islamophobia — a word she dismissed in an interview as “a creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Yet she has appeared to push the envelope recently, telling French radio that pork-free meals for Muslim and Jewish children would be banned in the cities and towns now controlled by her party. In an interview with The Washington Post, however, she seemed to backtrack, saying that both pork and non-pork meals would be offered in schools.

And although they agree on the fundamental issue of loosening the ties that bind the E.U., the parties remain deeply at odds over a host of issues, including same-sex marriage. The track record for cooperation among members of the far right also bodes ill. Such parties have repeatedly sought to build alliances in the European Parliament, only to see them fall apart because of infighting.

“Nationalists inherently disagree with each other,” said Simon Hix, a professor of comparative politics at the London School of Economics. “They’re all like, “My country is the best one in the world,’ and then the other one says, ‘No, my country is the best one in the world.’ And from there, they all end up fighting.”

But Le Pen insists that this time will be different, that she is gunning for a big win next month. A strong showing by the nationalists, which opinion polls in multiple countries suggest could happen, could effectively put some of the E.U.’s toughest opponents inside its gates.

Once viewed as a paper tiger, the European Parliament, based in Strasbourg, France, has continued to gain power. Even in the best-case scenario for Le Pen, any far-right alliance is unlikely to unseat Europe’s mainstream majorities on the center-right and center-left.

But the vote — over four days starting May 22 — could make the far right a stronger force on issues such as immigration legislation and rights of religious minorities. In the name of protecting domestic industries, far-right representatives would seek to bring free trade to a standstill — for example, opposing any attempt to ratify the sweeping E.U.-U.S. free-trade deal that is under negotiation. Analysts say a stronger far right could compel mainstream conservative parties to tow a harder right-wing line.

With France’s National Front the likely anchor of any nationalist coalition, it has been up to Le Pen to try to forge a legislative bloc. Success would mean winning at least 25 seats from seven countries. Though almost assured of enough seats, Le Pen appears to be at least one nation shy of the country threshold.

That is partly because of the varying degrees of extremism tolerated by each party. Le Pen dismissed the notion of working with the black-clad ultranationalist members of Greece’s Golden Dawn, whom she described as “neo-Nazis.” She also ruled out collaborating with Hungary’s Jobbik party, one of whose leaders has called for a government list of Jews in the name of national security.

Meanwhile, one nationalist group, the United Kingdom Independence Party, has refused to work with her. Like Le Pen, UKIP chief Nigel Farage has sought to position his party as sane moderates who happen to have an anti-E.U., anti-immigration bent. While he touts his party as mainstream, Le Pen’s National Front, he insists, is just faking it.

“Our view is that whatever Marine Le Pen is trying to do with the Front National, anti-Semitism is still imbedded in that party, and we’re not going to work with them now or at any point in the future,” Farage told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.

But even her critics concede that Le Pen has determinedly sought to distance herself from her controversial father and has made strides toward steering the party away from explicit racism. In October, the National Front ejected a mayoral candidate, Anne-Sophie Leclere, after she publicly compared France’s French Guiana-born justice minister, Christiane Taubira, to a monkey.

In fact, Le Pen is portraying the party as the best ally French Jews could have against a common enemy.

“Not only am I not anti-Semitic, but I have explained to my Jewish compatriots that the movement most able to protect them is the Front National,” she said. “For the greatest danger today is the rise of an anti-Semitism in the suburbs, stemming from Muslim fundamentalists.”

Here’s the question-and-answer section:

Question and Answer with Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Pen, the daughter of National Front co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, led the party to historic gains in French elections last month by rolling out a more tempered brand of nationalism. She is now trying to build a new alliance of European nationalists in the European Parliament. Elections are in May.

Q. To what extent is your party really different today then it was when your father first formed it in the 1970s?

A. Well of course it has to be different, because a party isn’t the same when it reaches 10% and when it reaches 25% of the votes. The National Front has most of all become more mature. It is now more then 40 years old. The National Front used to be a party of opposition, a party that would question and criticize the system, it is now a party that is ready to rule.

Q. The party is described as a reformed party, but is it more you yourself that is more moderate than the party itself?

A. I believe that politics is a matter of person. Specifically in the Fifth French Republic. In a healthy political system, a political party should resemble its leader. This is the reason why there is an ongoing political crisis in France, because this is not the case in other parties. For instance the issues and desires of the electoral basis of the [center-right Union for a Popular Movement] are very different from those of the leaders of the UMP, and this is what generates this political crisis today in France.

Q. Is there still a home for extreme-right thinking in your party?

A. I have always been very clear on this subject: the National Front is not a far-right party. The party has been called this by our opponents to discredit us. For that matter, any patriotic movement that seeks to oppose the political choices made by those who lead their country are called that way, so as to discredit them. Once I was giving an interview to a Japanese journalist who looked at me in a candid way and said: “I don’t understand why they call your party far-right, I don’t see any proposal in your program from the far-right.”

Q. If you succeed in forming a block in the European elections, what would you do in Parliament?

A. Do anything I can do to stop European integration and retrieve as much power as possible from the E.U. to give this power back to the nations. I have four priorities. Give back to the French their sovereignty over the French territory, their sovereignty over the currency, their sovereignty over the economy and the law.

Q. So you want to pull out of the European Union?

A. The Front National wants to organize a referendum to ask the French whether they want to stay in the E.U. or not. The opinion of the French was betrayed in 2005. When they said “no” to the Lisbon Treaty, the political leaders said “yes” and stabbed French voters in the back. Before the referendum, I will go to the E.U. saying that I want them to give us back full sovereignty on the issues previously mentioned. If the E.U. refuses, I will then ask the French to pull out of the E.U.

Q. How close are you from achieving a coalition of European parties?

A. I am convinced we’ll have a group. So far our research is doing well, I think we’ll have the Austrian Freedom Party, the Swedish Democrats, Fratelli d’Italia and/or the Northern League in Italy, Geert Wilders’s party in the Netherlands, and others with whom we’re currently in discussion with.

Q. For instance for Jobbik and Golden Dawn .?.?. you said you didn’t want them as part of your coalition, why is that? And if not them, who else would work?

A. Golden Dawn is a neo-Nazi group, so there is no way we’ll work with them. As for other movements, they do not defend the principles required to belong to the group.

Q. You’ve been quoted for saying that school should not be a place for religious expression. Is it true that you’re going to stop offering meals without pork in the cities where your party won mayorships? What other changes can we expect to see in these National Front run towns?

A. What I said is that there are schools in France today where pork meat is prohibited. I am in favor of prohibiting the prohibition of pork. Now there is always a choice in French schools, and this is a good thing. However I do not see why in France pork should be prohibited just because a minority doesn’t eat any, and deprives others of the right of eating pork.

Q. What does that practically mean on the ground though?

A. There is always an alternative. If you give in to religious groups on little things, they’ll always comes for more. For instance last year in Le Havre, 8,000 chocolate mousses were thrown away just because there was pork jelly in it. We must put this to an end.

Q. What other changes are you proposing in these cities?

A. Reduce taxes. Stop city funding for community-based and party-related associations. Implement policies in favor of small businesses and shops against supermarket chains that are killing them. And finally implement a zero tolerance policy on security issues.

Q. What does your father think about your updated message?

A. Quite honestly, I think that Jean-Marie Le Pen is happy to see that the National Front is turning itself into a party that is able to rule. He has no taste for useless effort. So he is very well aware that in order to achieve this the FN must reach out to more than 50% of the French. For this reason it is only natural that the FN should appeal to patriots from the left and the right.

Q. Have you repudiated the comments your father made on the Holocaust? And what are your own views on the Holocaust?

A. I have never tried to bear a judgment against my own father, because I consider that in our European culture one does not judge his parents. Now I have expressed my disagreements with my father on certain points, disagreements related to the way one should express things, something that has also to do with a difference of generations. I would like to say that the National Front has never been anti-Semitic. Not only am I not anti-Semitic, but I have explained to my Jewish compatriots that the movement that is most able to protect them is the National Front. For the greatest danger today is the rise of an anti-Semitism in the suburbs, stemming from Muslim fundamentalists.

Q. Another critique against the FN is that it is rooted in Islamophobia. What is your policy on immigration in France, specifically when it comes to Muslim countries?

A. It is interesting to see how this word “Islamophobia” that was created by the Islamic Republic of Iran, has progressively penetrated the highest spheres of political power and the media. Our positions are very clear and are completely in line with those of the Republic. One can become a French citizen .?.?. if only the French accept it. One must respond to a certain number of criteria. As of today we are in favor of the stopping of immigration because France has been facing massive and anarchic immigration in the past 30 years, and this causes significant problems on the economy and in our society. This in the end prevents the assimilation of immigrants with the local population. And this a source of conflicts.

Q. Do you expect to be the president of France one day? If you were, what would France look like after your first term?

A. Yes, I consider being president one day. The reason for this is because I do not see anyone in French politics today who is brave enough to implement measures to help France get back on its feet. Only then will France look like France again. France hasn’t looked like France in a very long time.

Print Friendly and PDF