Marine Le Pen is due to speak at the Cambridge Union Society today. Unite Against Fascism, Cambridge University Students’ Union activists, the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, the UCU, Cambridge Defend Education and others will join a demo outside from 2.30pm. Demonstrators explain why:
The Front National (FN) is a modern fascist party. It was formed in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was backed by wartime fascists, including ex-SS officers and supporters of the pro-Nazi Vichy government, and a new generation of fascists, or self-styled ‘revolutionary nationalists.’ Their strategy was to seek respectability to win wider support and then transform these supporters ‘in our image.’
The FN is deeply racist. It has tried to use its electoral success and media profile to bring anti-semitism and Holocaust revisionism into the mainstream, and to make racism respectable. In 1987 Le Pen described the gas chambers as a ‘point of detail’ of the Second World War. In 1996 he argued that racial inequality was a fact. In 2010 his daughter, Marine Le Pen, compared Muslims praying in the street to the wartime occupation of France. She wants the wearing of the hijab (and the kippa) banned in public. Following a series of murders by Mohamed Merah in southern France last year, she argued that all North African immigrants were potential killers: ‘How many Mohamed Merahs in the boats and planes that arrive full of immigrants every day in France? How many Mohamed Merahs among the children of these non-assimilated immigrants?’
The FN is not more moderate under Marine Le Pen. ‘I passed her the baton,’ said Jean-Marie Le Pen after she took over from him in 2011. ‘If she runs faster than me, then so much the better.’ He remains the party’s honorary president and made a speech to members last year in which he quoted the anti-semitic writer Robert Brasillach, executed for collaboration with the Nazis. The FN continues to cultivate links with fascist groups and parties. Although older generations of Nazi collaborators are dying out, many FN leaders and election candidates are veterans of ‘revolutionary nationalist’ groups and retain links to white supremacist and organisations promoting Holocaust denial. In 2012, on Holocaust Memorial Day, Marine Le Pen was a guest of the Austrian Freedom Party at a ball in Vienna organized by the neo-Nazi Olympia society. Olympia bans Jews or women from its membership, once proposed that the Nobel Peace Prize be awarded to Nazi Rudolf Hess, and organizes celebrations of Holocaust denial featuring prominent revisionists like David Irving.
The FN is a threat to democracy. FN run towns have been characterized by authoritarianism and intolerance, banning halal meat in school canteens, censoring library provision and clamping down on the ‘promotion of homosexuality’. Like her father, Marine Le Pen seeks to organize a capacity for extra-parliamentary activity through rallies, street demonstrations a nd links to openly ‘revolutionary nationalist’ groups. The FN has a track record of violence against its opponents.
Legitimising the FN breeds racist discrimination. Acceptance of the FN as a legitimate party has helped make racism respectable in France. The hijab is banned in schools. The wearing of the niqab and the burka is banned in public. One survey identified a 33.6% rise in racist acts towards Muslims in 2011 compared to the previous year. More French Muslims claim to have had negative encounters due to their religious or ethnic background (37%) than those in Britain (28%) or Germany (19%).