Slate: Marine Le Pen’s Far Right Seize the Moment in France

Jonathan Laurence, and associate professor of political science at Boston College and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes in Slate:

For the first seven hours after the attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo,the National Front, France’s far right political party, kept an old feature about the influx of Roma and “gypsies” into French cities on its website. Then, shortly after noon, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the increasingly popular party with the slogan “The French Come First,” appeared in front of three French flags and hammered out her demands—and a selfless offer.

It is time for “frank and clear responses” against “inaction and denial,” she declared. In other words: The country’s two main political parties have failed to stem the Islamist tide, and you the voters now have all the evidence you need that France requires new leadership. “I intend to assume this vital responsibility so France can defend itself in the war that has been declared upon her,” she continued.

Populist parties in Europe have long done a fine trade based on the cultural and religious differences of Muslim citizens. That has been particularly true in recent years as efforts to integrate Muslims has become mired with controversy over headscarves, halal food, and the construction of mosques. The National Front, like other populist parties in neighboring countries, has emphasized the link between the cultural accommodation of local Muslims and recent political instability in Egypt, Libya, and Mali.

Mainstream French parties have tried to fend off the National Front’s advance ever since it unexpectedly made it to the final round of presidential elections in 2002. Last May, its nationalist, xenophobic message helped the party capture 25 percent of the vote in the European Union parliament elections. After Wednesday’s tragic attack, the party’s relevance can no longer be doubted.

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