Global Independent Analytics
Ioannis Mantzikos
Ioannis Mantzikos

Location: Greece

Specialization: Jihadist Groups, Islamic Terrorism, Global Security

Marine Le Pen and the distortion of reality in France

Marine Le Pen is apparently of the idea that the world is currently under threat from two evil types of global imperialism trying to subjugate France

France is home to around 6.5 million Muslims, or roughly 10% of the country's total population of 66 million. Although most Muslims in France live peacefully, many are drawn to radical Islam. A CSA poll found that 22% of Muslims in the country consider themselves Muslim first and French second. Nearly one of five (17%) Muslims in France believe that Sharia law should be fully applied in France, while 37% believe that only parts of Sharia should be applied in the country. France is also one of the largest European sources of the so-called foreign fighters in Syria. More than 1,500 French Muslims have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and many more are believed to be supporters of the group in France.

Since the emergence of terror attacks in 2015, the French government has introduced a raft of new counter-terrorism measures -- including sweeping surveillance powers to eavesdrop on the public -- aimed at preventing further jihadist attacks. French counter-terrorism operatives have foiled a number of jihadist plots, including a plan to attack a major navy base in Toulon, and an attempt to murder a Socialist MP in Paris.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's Front National (FN) and one of the most popular politicians in the country, went on trial in October 2015 for comparing prevalent Muslim prayers on the street to the wartime occupation of France.  In the aftermath of the attacks, Le Pen, who has long been critical of President Hollande's politically correct counter-terrorism policies, is certain to rise in public opinion polls. This in turn will increase the political pressure on the government to take decisive action against the jihadists. Faced with similar pressure after the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks in January and November of 2015, Hollande seemed reluctant to push too far, apparently fearful of the consequences of confronting the Muslim community in France. It remains to be seen whether the latest attacks in Paris, which some are describing as France's September 11, mark a turning point.

Marine Le Pen is apparently of the idea that the world is currently under threat from two evil types of global imperialism trying to subjugate France: American "euro-mondialism" and Islamism. In Le Pen's view, both the Americans (with the European Union as an American tool) and the Islamists want to dominate the world and destroy France's sovereignty and identity. Her view seems to be that there is moral equivalence between the U.S. and Islamism: both are equally eager to dominate the world. They sometimes even cynically use each other to reach their goals.

Her ideas on the domestic front have also been partially distorted.  Conventional wisdom in France has long posited an unbridgeable divide between the French Republic and the National Front — its populism, dubious commitment to democracy, and racism putting it beyond the bounds of political respectability. Marine has set out to prove them wrong.  Instead of harking back to pre-Rousseau ideals, she stressed the need to recover the spirit of the Fifth Republic — a mythical golden age in which President Charles de Gaulle’s France prospered domestically and commanded respect internationally — and declared that those around her were the true defenders of the republic. In appropriating the idea of republicanism, Marine undercut the very language used to quarantine the FN — to stigmatize it beyond the pale — and created an effective narrative, a vehicle, to propel the French Revolution’s message. Frontists were no longer rednecks but guardians of the separation of church and state, and defenders of beleaguered European minorities and victimized groups.

IFOP, an international polling firm, stated that in the 2012 presidential elections, Le Pen received 4 percent of the Muslim vote in France.  In 2014, a confidential report conducted by an association of trade unions at the time of the council elections found that 8 percent of the association’s Muslim members had voted for the FN. One of the shocks of this particular election was the FN’s victory in the tough district of Marseille which has a predominantly North African population.  The message that Marine Le Pen has sought to convey is that her party isn’t opposed to Muslims but to what she has described as the ‘progressive Islamisation of our country’. It’s a message that is winning her votes in the most unlikely of places.

The failure of both Francois Hollande’s and Nicolas Sarkozy’s governments to tackle Islamic extremism in France has left many Muslims feeling abandoned by the traditional politicians. In late October 2015, Paris’s daily tabloid, Le Parisien, visited Seine-Saint-Denis to see what headway the FN was making in its bid to attract disillusioned voters.  A majority of Muslims have traditionally voted for the Socialists and while most would never dream of turning to the Front National, many are so disillusioned with the ruling party that they are abstaining. Most support  for FN from Muslims comes mainly from educated or skilled Maghrebins who have arrived in France relatively recently rather than from those born in France.

Marine’s ambition to transform the FN into a formation capable of taking power at the national level is a path that arguably carries with it a burden of justification within the party.  After all, those who prefer an outsider status and resist modification or the possible dilution of the Front’s axioms and loyal personnel are forced to realize the achievements of the FN (what some may term Lepenization) in the political mainstream. 

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