Have you ever wondered about the origins of the expression “pardon my French?” Some say that it originated in the 19th century and was used as an apology by people who used French words in conversations. Nowadays, it’s used apologetically after swearing. How wonderful language can be. I’m sure that Marine Le Pen, leader of the French extreme-right-wing Front National and presidential runner in 2017, would appreciate my “sens d’humour,” if she pardons my French, that is. I’m not going to be rude, although I do feel like letting her hear a few of my favourite British and French swearwords. That’s the advantage of having been brought up in a bilingual environment. I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to swearwords.
The timing of the BBC interview with Marine Le Pen, last year, was unfortunate. She appeared on the Andrew Marr Show on Remembrance Sunday and he began the interview, which turned out to be a “une femme” show, by justifying his decision to broadcast the interview on such an emotional day. It was important, he said, to give an opportunity for a potential French president who claimed that Donald Trump had “changed the world” to let her views be known to the British public. Well, Donald Trump hasn’t changed the world yet, and I do think that it’s not going to be that easy for him either, judging by what just happened to Obamacare.
Marine Le Pen, a dangerous paradox
It’s not so much the timing of the interview that bothered me, but its content. I was expecting an aggressive and sharp Andrew Marr exposing every fallacy in Marine Le Pen’s policies and pushing her reasoning to the limit. Instead, Marr proved to be too polite and discreet. Some of the questions he posed just begged further questioning and probing into Le Pen’s reasoning. But that never happened. In fact, Andrew Marr was made to look stupid when the only time that he was remotely aggressive was when he mistakenly alluded to the infamous remarks her father had made over the Holocaust being a “detail of history.” Marine Le Pen was quick to respond that this occurred nearly 30 years ago and that she had distanced herself from her father. Some would argue that politicians like Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are partisan of fascist ideologies. They preach xenophobia, national preference and the desire to have a strong state. But these politicians and their political parties are much more dangerous than your average fascist party. They have successfully claimed eligibility by putting forward a new kind of extremism that we can describe as “ethnocratic liberalism.” This form of liberalism combines their extremist ideologies with a democratic constitutionalism. Their ideologies infiltrate middle ground liberalism and that’s what makes ethnocratic liberalism such a dangerous paradox.
Do you want a multicultural society like the English speaking countries where Islam is progressing? Marine Le Pen, 2016
Problems associated with the integration of migrant communities has always been at the core of extreme-right ideologies. The peaceful integration of Muslim communities in France has become extremely difficult, if not impossible. The repetition of terrorist attacks has lead to a profound mistrust of these communities. What Marine Le Pen seems to forget is that the problem of Islamic fundamentalism transposing itself into terrorist attacks is largely specific to France. It is now clear that a significant number of these terrorists are, in fact, young people originating from run down city suburbs and having been radicalised in French prisons. Is the surge of Islam really worse in English speaking countries, as Marine Le Pen suggests? I really don’t think so. The root of the problem is to be found in the derelict suburbs of a large number of French towns and cities, French prisons, and the highly secular nature of the French Republic. In publicly singling out English speaking countries as being prone to the surge of Islam, Marine Le Pen wanted to reach out to the American people who have put Donald Trump in office, and voters in the UK who want a break-up of the European Union.
“We cannot welcome hundreds of thousands of migrants because our primary obligation is to help the French people.” Marine Le Pen, 2016
In the interview, Marine Le Pen claims that not one of her party manifesto proposals has a racist undertone, and she challenged Andrew Marr to disprove her. Well, instead of remaining silent, Andrew Marr could have managed to find at least one that not only is xenophobic, but also discriminatory. It concerns the acquisition of French nationality. I, like many others, possess dual citizenship (British/French), and I would feel very aggrieved and shocked, were I to be forced to choose between one or the other. How can Marine Le Pen expect individuals to erase their origins and ignore what is, in fact, an integral part of what they are. Nothing could be more degrading and hurtful. Furthermore, her proposal is directed against citizens from countries outside the European Union. Dual French-EU citizenship would be allowed, although what would happen to people like me after Brexit is anybody’s guess. Although she didn’t admit it, this policy is primarily directed against Muslim countries.
“Dual nationality will no longer be authorised apart from the case of dual nationality with another country from the European Union: concerned people will be brought to choose between the two nationalities.” (Notre Projet: Politique du Front National, p16)
“I borrowed from a Russian bank. It could have just as well been a bank from Guatemala or Spain.” Marine Le Pen, 2016
A cynical answer to Andrew Marr’s question concerning the 9 million euros her party received from a Russian bank in 2014. I didn’t know that Guatemala had banks. In any case, I can go to the bank in the high street if I want to borrow money, so why can’t she? The Front National, together with other extreme-right-winged parties in Europe, makes no secret of its profound admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. In 2014, Marine Le Pen described the referendum over Crimea as “legitimate.” Whilst describing the European Union as a “democratic monster,” she admired Putin for doing “what is best for Russia and the Russian people.” She has even said that the Russian president was “defending the Christian heritage of Europe.” Maybe Marine Le Pen should reopen the history books and read about the 1938 Munich agreement in which Hitler was allowed to annex a region of Czechoslovakia in an attempt to appease him. We all know what happened next.
The attraction of European extreme-right-wing parties to the Kremlin is twofold. Firstly, they gain financial support from the Russians, as underscored by Marine Le Pen’s bank loans, and by disgraced Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi’s shady energy deals with Russia in 2010. In these deals, it had been reported that he “and his cronies are profiting personally and handsomely” from business ties to Russia. The second cause for attraction is Putin’s intrinsic hatred for the European Union. It is clear that in allowing the financing of anti-EU right-wing political parties, Putin is trying to drive a wedge between the people of Europe and their governing EU “elite.” Furthermore, by participating in the random bombing in Syria, causing the uncontrolled influx of migrants, Putin is also contributing in destabilising the EU. The question of whether this is his main reason for intervening in Syria, remains open to discussion.
“A military attack from Russia? Just saying that brings a smile to my face.” Marine Le Pen, 2016
Marine Le Pen also questions the continuing usefulness of NATO. She claims that there is no justification for the continuing presence of the organisation because “the threat on which NATO was formed in the first place, no longer exists.” Try saying that to the people of Ukraine, Chechnya, and elsewhere. The world order, according to Vladimir Putin, is one of “reasoned protectionism,” comprising the protection of one’s own country and its identity. This is much to the liking of Marine Le Pen and her party. Protecting one’s own country is all very noble, Mister Putin, as long as you know where your country’s boundaries actually end.
But what about her economic policies? The interview was lacking in economics, which surely forms part of the popular discontent, together with immigration. What is known of Le Pen’s economic strategy is a mixture of utopia and wishful thinking. Her desire to take France out of the common currency and the EU is based on a nationalistic ideology and has nothing to do with economics. At home, she clearly believes that spending more than you earn is a sound economic basis on which the country can thrive. Among her policies, raising welfare benefits, lowering the retirement age and cutting income tax, represent an electoral carrot which, if eaten, will cause the French people a severe bout of indigestion. However, I seriously doubt whether the French people really vote for her economic policies. This would explain why in winning the first round of the upcoming presidential election, Marine Le Pen will lose the second, no matter whom she faces. It is often said that in France, the first round of the presidential elections is when people vote with their hearts; and the second, with their wallets.
Marine Le Pen prides herself in speaking “au nom du peuple,” on behalf of the people. The problem is that, the broader the smile on her face, the more she looks like a puppet, with Vladimir Putin as the ventriloquist.