Demagoguery Is the Last Thing France Needs

Tribune publiée dans The Huffington post

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right French party Front National, is using the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris to market her typical brand of propaganda to the United States. First a portrait in the Wall Street Journal, then an Op-Ed in the New York Times.

Her tactics are always the same: mixing obvious statements with half-truths, and sometimes outright lies under the guise of common sense, finding all French political leaders but her guilty of incompetence and hypocrisy.

First, she claimed that the French government refuses to name the threat by its name. She must have missed the Prime Minister’s speech at the National Assembly last week, which ended with a unanimous standing ovation, a rare fact in French politics. Manuel Valls unambiguously described the enemy as jihadist terrorism, and explained at length that the challenge before us is to stop the process of radicalization. He called for a debate within Islam, specifically within the French Muslim organizations, to better understand why the frontier between tolerant, peaceful Islam and Islamism is so fragile.

Marine Le Pen also accused the French government of policy failures all around. I won’t go here into what should have been done under Nicolas Sarkozy, but I can certainly attest to what has been done since François Hollande’s election in 2012: new hires for the police force and the justice system, sustained focus on treating the problem of overpopulation in prisons which facilitates the radicalization of petty delinquents into would-be terrorists, an anti-terrorist bill voted into law with near-unanimity last fall to adapt to new forms of terrorist recruitment and actions, all-encompassing studies on modernizing and restructuring the intelligence services, with a resulting bill soon to be debated in parliament.

Of course all of this will now need to be amplified and accelerated, and better coordinated with efforts at the European and international levels. But in terms of the security response, France’s policies were already the right ones.

Of course, the head of the Front National also cited her two favorite one-size-fits-all causes for all the ills of France: massive immigration and the European Union. Here, she proposes ill-conceived solutions to non-existent problems. There is no massive immigration in France. The percentage of immigrants compared to the total population has only risen by 1.2 percent in 30 years. France has a significantly lower percentage of foreign residents than the UK, Italy, Germany and Spain. Current immigrants are not responsible for the rise of radical Islam in France, since it is mostly French disenfranchised youth who are being radicalized. The solutions lie in educational, economic, social and anti-discrimination policies, not in stopping waves of imaginary immigrants.

It is also completely false to pretend that there are no border controls within the European Union. Yes, there are open borders between the European countries that have signed the Schengen agreement. But there are security measures in place against all kinds of trafficking. These measures certainly need to be reinforced and supported by better coordinated intelligence networks to match the new threat level, and in the wake of the Paris attacks and the recent arrests in Belgium and Germany, there is no doubt they will be.

Furthermore, getting out of the Schengen zone, as Marine Le Pen advocates, would not necessarily be much help with containing the terrorist threat. The UK is not part of that zone, yet the 2005 London bombing still happened, and the jihadist threat is still present there.

Marine Le Pen now praises the French people for rising up in national unity, a unity she could not wait to contest even as the terrorists were still being pursued. She pretends that her goal is also to protect all French Muslims from being suspected of Islamism. She purports that her party is the only one that can truly uphold the values of the French Republic.

Yet, voters of the Front National are two to three times more likely than the average French voter to hold anti-Semitic views. Over 80 percent of this party’s sympathizers view Islam in France as a threat to the country rather than a contributor to our cultural diversity.

The Front National is not the solution, it compounds the problems, and then thrives on them.

Manuel Valls’ most memorable statement in front of the National Assembly a week ago was “France cannot be a country where Jews are afraid and Muslims are ashamed.”

If Marine Le Pen truly wants to serve her country, she could make this statement her own, instead of pandering to voters who refuse to understand it.