Marine Le Pen: France’s Sarah Palin?

1 Apr

In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder and leader of the far-right political party National Front (FN), received 18% of the vote during the French Presidential election. This 18 %, while a seemingly meager number, was enough to place Le Pen in second place (prior to a latter run-off, in which he was easily trounced), and as such, served as an alarming wake-up call for the French left–and the rest of the world.

Since then Jean-Marie has retired, and a newer, prettier, more palatable member of the Le Pen family has gained in ascendancy to the National Front ranks. Marine Le Pen, daughter to Jean-Marie, and a political initiate beginning in her early twenties, is now–at 42–the leader of the National Front. Marine’s politics adhere closely to those of the FN orthodoxy: a fierce opposition to the European Union, vociferous criticism of “multiculturalism” and its requisite bleeding of French “values” and cultural heritage, a skeptical position towards immigration that culminates in the belief of expatriation when French citizenship is seen to be “rejected.”

There are sides of Marine Le Pen’s politics, however, which reflect a more liberal thinking than the ideas her father represented. Marine favors abortion rights, is strongly supportive of the strictest separation between church and state, and has favored ideas and policies that bear a strong resemblance to those found in the “locavore” movement. Her assertions that food production occur within particular radii to the communities served reflects a sympathy with environmental and agricultural policies found in the organic and slow-food movements.

Marine’s ideological proximity to her father was emphasized when, during a much-publicized December 2010 speech, she  likened the overtaking of public squares and street by Muslims during the daily call-to-prayer as “illegal occupation.” An accusation such as this, with its seemingly protectionist foundation, attempts to convince that the concern is with the community in question and the rights of all citizens. This position, though apparently in opposition to more leftist concerns with farming and the environment, actually hews quite close to them. The sense of “patrimonie” is arguably foundational to both views; the belief in a French history and culture, in its uniqueness and autonomy that must be protected and respected. An extreme sense of “patrimonie” reserves no place for those ideas and people seen as “outside of” its boundaries–be they GMO’s, women wearing the veil, Muslim men praying in the street, etc.

If seen as the pretty defender of old French farmers and cheesemakers in the north of France, Marine Le Pen’s vitriol becomes transformed as a defensive (read: “necessary) act to protect the French from those that seek to destroy, or at the very least transfigure, “patrimonie” itself. This returns me to the initial provocation: is Marine a French Sarah Palin? Palin’s insistent chorus of “my country ’tis-of-thee”s can be seen as homespun, less sophisticated refrains of Le Pen’s “patrimonie,” the purpose being to manipulate people’s sense of pride in their communities and its commingled fear of displacement and loss during times of economic hardship. Further, Palin’s near-constant criticism of those she views as outliers, liberals, non-Alaskans, feminists, are echos of Le Pen and FN’s hateful anti-immigration positions.

It remains to be seen how far either woman will travel politically….perhaps Le Pen will ultimately end up as a commentator on a lame French conservative network? or maybe the star of reality show “Marine Le Pen’s Calais”? I can just see her now–conducting her nationwide book tour via a bio-diesel bus, stopping to enlighten only those towns where no streets are blocked for prayers to Mohammed.

(See the May 1st NYTimes Magazine profile of Le Pen: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/magazine/mag-01LePen-t.html?ref=todayspaper)

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