How Islamism Tainted France's Presidential Election

By Poller, Nidra | Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

How Islamism Tainted France's Presidential Election


Poller, Nidra, Middle East Quarterly


What is Europe going to do about Islam? Submit? Resist? Or just wait it out, dimwittedly? The recent French presidential election offers insight into the way Islam, or more exactly the Islamist factor, may eventually play out in European politics.

Despite attempts by the Left to focus the debate on the economic crisis, Islam played a decisive role in the contest. The Socialist candidate, whose platform was tilted to favor the party's Muslim clientele, could not have won without total support in the second round of voting from far Left parties marked by zealous anti-Zionism and a full range of anti- Western ideologies. The question of Islam-in-France was raised with unprecedented candor by incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy of the Movement for a Popular Majority (UMP). For the first time in France, a major party clearly advocated a push back against Islam (qualified of course with the adjective "radical"). This strategy fired up the enthusiasm of the base, mobilized voters, brought tens of thousands to party rallies, and led to a daily increase in Sarkozy 's polling figures. It would be fair to estimate that if he had had one more week to campaign he might have defeated Hollande during the second-round vote on May 6, 20 12.

But his momentum had already been slowed by Marine Le Pen, candidate of a refurbished Front National. During the first-round campaign of April 9-22, the media kept its spotlight on her in a replay of the strategy used by the last Socialist president, François Mitterrand, who deployed them to exaggerate her father Jean-Marie Le Pen's importance and weaken the conservative opposition. While accusing the Right of dallying with the FrontNational "fascists," Mitterrand had unashamedly governed with a coalition of communists and the far Left without which the Socialists could never have won A variation on this strategy was used in 2012: Anyone who dared question the virtues of "immigration" (cede word for Islam) or defend national identity (code word for Islamexasperation) was smeared with pejoratives, allrelatedto Nazism and the Holocaust.

In fact, this worked to the advantage of Le Pen, who came in third with 17.9 percent of the vote in the first round. What explains her pulling power? Did millions of French voters, disappointed with Sarkozy's failure to release the pent up energies of the French economy, go for the Front National's unrealistic economic program? Or did they, like the more vocal counterjihad activists who rushed into her arms, simply ignore it and focus strictly on her championing of Islamexasperation? The activists, blaming Sarkozy for being big on rhetoric but soft on Islam, placed their faith in Le Pen, who came out beating the drum against Muslim street prayers ("an invasion without tanks") and marched forward, stressing all the issues about which they themselves were blogging. They believed she would put an end to shameful compromises by the Right and the Left, which they designated by the composite "UMPS" (UMP + PS [Parti socialiste]).

Enchanted by her tough-on-Islam rhetoric, the new enthusiasts ignored the core of smallminded, retrograde anticapitalist - and often antiSemitic - Front National stalwarts. Members of the "Jews-for-Marine" faction gave credibility to her clumsy visits to the United States and Israel. Her secularist Jewish supporters hardly noticed the way she lumped Judaism together with Islam, willing to sacrifice kosher slaughter if Islamic halal could be abolished along with it.1 They did not even hear her declare that the U.N. Security Council should recognize Palestine.2

Heady with power after her good first round showing, Le Pen orchestrated the defeat of Sarkozy by convincing half of her supporters to cast a blank ballot in the second round of voting. Bloggers and activists associated with the counter-jihad site, Riposte Laïque,3 believed that the UMP, condemned for its failure to stop the Islamic onslaught, would fall apart, and Le Pen would pick up the pieces. …

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