Marine Le Pen: Softer Face of Racism in France?

Dana Kennedy, AOL News, January 14, 2011

This country’s most notorious political party, the far-right National Front, will soon have a new boss for the first time since it was founded nearly 40 years ago by Jean-Marie Le Pen, known for his anti-Semitic views.

Some say the charismatic, blond, twice-divorced mother of three expected to succeed him may modernize the party–but is not unlike the old boss.

After all, she’s his daughter. Her own mother has even called her his “clone.” Marine Le Pen, 42, is expected to be elected head of the National Front at a party convention this weekend.

Given the growing anti-immigration sentiment and prejudice against Muslims on the rise in Europe, the fear among some is that Marine Le Pen may become the softer, prettier face of xenophobia and racism in France and make her party more palatable.

While she has disavowed her father’s anti-Semitism, Le Pen shares his belief that France should halt immigration, and that citizenship by birth should not be automatic.

Her highly rated appearance last month on the French political program “A Vous de Juger” (You Be the Judge), prompted a writer for Les Echos to call her one of the biggest media and political “phenomena of the year.”

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“She’s dangerous because she represents modern archconservatism and anti-immigration, but she seems so much less bigoted and racist than her father because she’s of a different generation and she’s a woman,” Jean-Yves Camus, a political analyst at the Institute of International Relations and Strategy in Paris, told AOL News.

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Although she began her career as a lawyer, Le Pen decided to embrace the family business in 1998 when she joined the National Front. French political experts believe she hopes to someday achieve a real legitimacy among France’s right-wing bloc, something her father never achieved.

Early signs bode well for her. The results of a poll released this week in Le Monde found that 22 percent of respondents support “the ideas” of the National Front, up from 18 percent a year ago.

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“Marine Le Pen, through her remarks about Muslims, has reminded us that she is the carrier of a profoundly discriminatory position and, in my opinion, anti-republican,” said Pierre Moscovici, a member of the French Socialist Party.

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He [Le Pen] and his daughter are optimistic that Marine will inject new blood in the National Front.

“Some said, ‘Here’s a woman, who is young, who contrasts with the caricatured image that some people might have of the National Front–a macho party, a rather tough party, with members who didn’t necessarily come out of the younger generations,'” Marine Le Pen said.

Wallerand de Saint-Just, the vice president of the National Front and the former longtime lawyer of Jean-Marie Le Pen, said France should not underestimate Marine.

“She’s new and she’s modern,” Saint-Just told AOL News. “Marine is the future of France.”

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