A year after Paris horror, Le Pen also rises

Numb: France’s prime minister now says his country thwarts terror attacks ‘every day’. © PA

A year ago on Sunday, Islamist terrorists killed 130 people in Paris. Now, after Donald Trump’s win, nationalist leader Marine Le Pen senses a chance to become French president.

‘It looked like an abattoir. I was wading through blood. I had to clamber over dead bodies to get out.’

This was how Michael O’Connor described his experience at a concert a year ago. At 9:40pm on November 13th 2015, three gunmen stormed into the Bataclan theatre and began firing indiscriminately.

In three hours, they killed 90 people. They were among 130 who died in shootings and bombings in Paris that night.

The subsequent year has brought more pain for France. On Bastille Day 86 people died when a man drove a truck into a crowd in Nice. Later in July a priest was beheaded in Rouen.

All these incidents were Islamist terror attacks.

France is now sharply divided. Over 50% of French people regularly say they think Islam is incompatible with French values. The prime minister is among those to voice concern at the influence of Salafism — an ultra-conservative Islamic ideology — in a country with Europe’s largest Muslim population. Thousands of Jews have left France.

In July France’s most senior security chief warned that his country was on the ‘verge of a civil war’ between jihadists and far-right groups. And mainstream politicians have grown increasingly assertive of the French tradition of laïcité, leading some Muslims to complain of discrimination.

In this context support for Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right Front National party, is surging. She proposes a massive clampdown on immigration; a referendum on leaving the EU; hardline social policies; and a protectionist economic platform.

Next spring she could win France’s presidential election. Now Donald Trump’s victory in the USA has given her a major boost. Trump and Le Pen both believe in putting the national interest first; have gained support in industrial heartlands; are sympathetic to Brexit and Vladimir Putin; and tap into an anti-establishment mood.

As Trump’s result emerged, bookmakers dramatically cut Le Pen’s odds of victory. And she declared: ‘What happened is not the end of the world — it’s the end of a world’.

Stroke of Le Pen

Attacks like Paris caused this, say some. These were appalling assaults on the values of the French republic. Islamists have tried to stop French people from doing things they hold dear: listening to music, eating good food or attending Bastille Day celebrations. It is no wonder they are responding by reasserting their national identity.

Le Pen’s support is a response to globalisation, say others. People are angry at the unequal distribution of social and economic power. They are fed up with losing control over their own lives and being ignored by mainstream politicians. These are the same forces that propelled Trump’s win and the Brexit vote.

You Decide

  1. Would you consider voting for Marine Le Pen?
  2. Do attacks like Paris explain the growth in support for Marine Le Pen?

Activities

  1. In one minute, write down as many words as you can think of which you associate with France. Then discuss in pairs: do your words relate to this story? How?
  2. Create a chart outlining the similarities and differences between Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, based on your own research.

Some People Say...

“Long-term forces, not individual events, change history.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t live in France — why does this matter?
France is one of the most important states in Europe. Its politics has a direct impact on the 66 million people who live there, and a knock-on effect on many others. France is a source of inspiration to many, as its revolutionary ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood have inspired movements around the world. A Le Pen victory would challenge these principles and inspire other challenges to them beyond France.
Would a Le Pen win make me better or worse off?
There would certainly be an economic impact. By some measures France now has the second largest economy in Europe. That means it trades with millions around the world. Le Pen would change its trade policy dramatically, potentially affecting your chances of getting a job.

Word Watch

Jews
Eight thousand Jews left France for Israel in 2015 — up from 1,900 in 2011. Islamists have often targeted Jews, for example in knife attacks.
Far-right groups
Gangs, for example, have targeted migrants in the Calais ‘Jungle’.
Assertive
Manuel Valls, the prime minister, has backed a ban on headscarves in universities. This summer there was a legal battle over several beach resorts banning the ‘burkini’ — a full-body garment worn by some Muslim women.
Laïcité
The policy of secularism has separated religion from the state since 1905. But some say France now enforces an anti-religious mentality.
Referendum
Le Pen would probably win: more than 60% of French people told Pew in June they viewed the EU unfavourably.
Election
She is likely to get through the first round in April but will then face a two-way run-off in May, probably against a centre-right candidate. This makes it harder to win.
Industrial
Trump won crucial states in the rust belt — such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — which have declined economically. Le Pen has gained support in similar mining towns in northern France.

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