WASHINGTON—The person who seems to be running France at this moment of extraordinary crisis, with a 12-day state of emergency formally declared by the government Tuesday, is the right-wing extremist leader of the Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
He demanded a week ago that the prefects, the state-appointed governors of the French provinces, be authorized to impose curfews in their districts. This has now been done.
He demanded that the 1955 law on closing all public places in a defined district, first passed during the Algerian War, should be dusted off and re-applied. This too has been done.
Le Pen demanded the call-up of gendarme reservists (in France, they come under the authority of Defense Ministry) and this too has been done.
He routinely uses the word “racaille” (rabble, or scum) to describe the disaffected Muslim youth of the soulless tower blocks of France’s banlieues, and now the minister of interior, Nicolas Sarkozy (himself descended from Hungarian immigrants), causes an outcry by deploying the same term.
Le Pen’s slogan for the past 20 years—“France, love her or leave her”—has now been taken up by the rather more respectable right-wing of French politics. The nationalist lawmaker Philippe de Villiers, member of the National Assembly and leader of the Movement for France, is now using the slogan “France—you love her or you quit.” And in saying he stands for “the de-Islamization of France,” de Villiers is now the echo of Le Pen.
Jean-Marie Le Pen is an extraordinary figure in French politics, aged 77 but as feisty and combative as ever, announcing a new mass demonstration for Monday evening at the Palais Royal in the heart of Paris—in what looks like a very direct provocation to the angry young men of the burning suburbs.
And now the Front National Web site, like Le Pen on every TV and radio talk show he can make, is claiming a triumphant vindication, even as he mourns the violence and destruction that has swept 300 towns and cities across France, and that now has the Belgians and Germans nervous that copy-cat car burnings have started in their towns as well.
“Le Pen said it,” say the posters advertising his rally in parties in Monday. “Le Pen warned that immigration was out of control, that law and order had broken down, that our national sovereignty was being given away, that the days of violence and race riots and civil war were coming. Le Pen always said it. And Le Pen was right all along.”
France’s next presidential elections are still 18 months away, which may be just as well for the panicking politicians of mainstream democracy.