Riots Bolstering French Radicals
The Washington Times today reprints a piece from yesterday’s London Sunday Telegraph noting that the French riots, now more in progress for more than two weeks among Muslim and other immigrants, have dramatically increased the popularity of National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Nationalist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen claims that the riots sweeping France have led to thousands of new recruits to his anti-immigration Front National (FN) party. Mr. Le Pen is one of the few political winners to emerge from the violence and vandalism, now well into its third week, that has prompted President Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency. Several of the hard-line measures Mr. Le Pen had called for, including widespread curfews, were adopted by the conservative government last week.
Mr. Le Pen’s popularity jumped five points in an opinion poll for Paris Match, and he claims that the FN has been “submerged” by messages of support since the riots began. Fears that the unrest would boost France’s right wing were aired on Web logs — since shut down — in response to messages calling for more violence. “Carry on like this, guys, and in 2007 Le Pen will be president of the republic,” wrote one youngster in opposition to the violence. The rioters are primarily first- and second-generation immigrants from north and west Africa and mostly Muslims.
Mr. Le Pen, who is typically labeled “far right” or “extreme right” by mainstream European newspapers, shocked French politics three years ago when he was voted into the second round of presidential elections against Mr. Chirac. A television news executive admitted last week to censoring coverage of the riots for fear of encouraging politicians such as Mr. Le Pen. Jean-Claude Dassier, the head of the television news service LCI, told a conference in Amsterdam: “Politics in France is heading to the right, and I don’t want right-wing politicians back in second or even first place because we showed burning cars.”
With a 24-hour ban on rallies in Paris due to be lifted today, Mr. Le Pen, 77, has summoned “legitimately worried and fed-up French people” to assemble in Palais Royal square in the city center tomorrow evening. Marine Le Pen, his 37-year-old youngest daughter and political heir, told the London Sunday Telegraph that her father, one of France’s longest-serving politicians, had been vindicated. “The Front National predicted and warned this violence would happen 20 years ago. It has been political madness for 30 years since we allowed immigrants to come here as cheap labor at the behest of French bosses,” said Miss Le Pen, a mother of three, lawyer and member of the European Parliament. “Five percent of those here legally have an employment contract, which means 95 percent are living at cost to the public purse. It is ruining our health system, our social security system and aggravating unemployment and social problems,” she said.
The evidence here is anecdotal and contradicts some other reporting. Still, the prospect of the radical fringe increasing its hold in French politics is problematic. More troublesome, though, is the notion that the press would stifle honest discussion of the underlying issues here for fear of bolstering Le Pen.
via OTB roving correspondent Richard Gardner