Marine Le Pen delivers her speech, overshadowed by a reproduction of Joan of Arc.

The French National Front and whitewashing contemporary France

Every year, the French National Front (FN hosts a rally in Paris to celebrate the Fête du travail (Labor Day) in front of the magnificently gilded Parisian Opéra. While the locale has little to do with the FN, it was the perfect stage for Labor Day drama. The playbill ultimately included topless protesters from the international group Femen and a divisive, troubling speech from FN president, and legitimate candidate for the 2017 presidential race, Marine Le Pen.

The protesters could very well take up their own article, including the controversial nature in which they were brutally apprehended after FN security broke into their hotel room. Le Pen later referred to the protest as a symbolic attack on the FN, claiming to be the real victim of these “obscene harpies” (a remark that was later redirected at Le Pen by the Minister for Education). The way the situation was handled was, without a doubt, troubling. However, Le Pen’s speech deserves a closer look. Not only was the protesters treatment predictable, but also such violence, both symbolic and physical, would be commonplace under a Le Pen led France that seeks to whitewash contemporary France.

The Marine Le Pen led FN – the party was co-founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972 – has benefitted from her political savvy and oratory skills. She is capable of effortlessly contorting ideas and rhetoric towards the party’s ultra-rightwing agenda. In the beginning of her speech, Le Pen made constant reference to the history of France, ultimately choosing Joan of Arc as the FN’s May 1st avatar. It might seem as though the FN president was making a feminist gesture, citing a long list of French heroines, writers and activists such as Christine de Pisan (poet) and Olympe de Gouges (abolitionist and writer of the Declaration of the Rights of Women). However, Le Pen was instead using these recognizable female figures to glorify a French past that is all but long gone.

Prior to citing these influential French women she enumerated ideas and concepts threatening French history and culture today. For example, the 2001 law proposed by Christiane Taubira recognizing the Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery as crimes against humanity. According to Le Pen this law, among others, “were made to rewrite our past with a guilty and deceitful pen.” Clearly, she was counting on a number of things from the 3,500 people assembled in front of the Opéra. First, that they weren’t aware that some of the women to whom she referred were staunch abolitionists like Gouges who wrote The Lucky Shipwreck, or Slavery of the Blacks. If the audience had either cared, or had not been nearly entirely FN supporters, they might have realized that Le Pen was offering up her own convoluted version of French history. Second, she was counting on no one having seen or read Christiane Taubira’s 1999 speech introducing the one of her three laws euphemistically referred to as “The Taubira law” where the then Guyanese representative declared, “[this speech] is not an accusation, because culpability is not hereditary and because we do not wish for revenge.” The 2001 law does not attribute guilt or mandate reparations. It recognizes slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade as crimes against humanity. A crime perpetrated by numerous European countries and the United States. If anyone is guilty of omission, it is the FN’s leader.

Marine Le Pen’s speech also entertained the normal political posturing that takes place between opposition parties, and unfavorable mandates. While a lot of Le Pen’s attention was directed towards former President Nicolas Sarkozy, current President François Holland and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls, she aimed a great deal of vitriol towards the European Union. Even though her criticism of a pan-European governing body may seem innocuous, some of the prime tenants of the FN’s nationalism are hampered by the E.U.

The recent drop in the value of the Euro certainly has a number of consequences for participating countries. Those that choose to abstain seem to be laughing all the way to the bank. However, as far as the FN is concerned, the Euro is not just a matter of currency, but of national identity and power. Refusing to participate in the Euro would allow France to return to the Franc, the history of which has seen many changes including the Reichspfennig or Rpfg (Reich Franc) period under German occupation. Le Pen obviously made a similar connection between megalomania and currency when she labeled the E.U. a “Euro-dictatorship.” Gross hyperbole aside, it is clear that Le Pen and the FN see the E.U. as a threat to the French nation, or at least the one they envision.

Not only does the E.U. raise economic concerns for Le Pen, but also foreign and domestic policy issues. The primary domestic problem facing France, according to Le Pen, is immigration. However, whenever the problem of immigration is discussed in ultra-rightwing circles, it nearly always serves as a forum for overtly racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic rhetoric.

Le Pen declared that open border policies “risk to put an end to France.” And continued by saying: “Immigration, communitarianism, Islamic fundamentalism… Once again, France is out of control.” Under Le Pen’s formula, Immigrants = Muslims. While Le Pen’s fear mongering about the “End of France” is lofty and cartoonish, she exacts a great deal of violence against the Muslim community in France. Perhaps the most ideologically pernicious segment of her speech is when she pitted the French against Muslims: “Our clueless politicians […] are determined to teach immigrant children to hate France, despising our values and our history.”

N supporters collect donations in an outstretched French flag.

FN supporters collect donations in an outstretched French flag. (Photo credit to author.)

Similar to Le Pen’s gross oversights with regard to Christiane Taubira, she ignores the fact that her apparent hatred coupled with the FN’s disdain for the immigrant community are the problem. Why might the Muslim community harbor scorn toaward the FN? Likely because their leader aggressively degrades and homogenizes Muslims at great length whenever she takes the podium. Far from just an ideological attack on Islam and French Muslims – a lot of who are legal French citizens, Le Pen argued against the construction of new Mosques. Le Pen claimed that background checks need to be done in order to determine where the financial backing for new Mosques comes from, but it is without a doubt another chunk of FN Islamophobia served up under the premise of national security.

These are just some of the things to take away from the National Front’s Labor Day gathering as they ponder the political direction of France in the coming years. Even though Jean-Marie Le Pen never spoke and later renounced her politics for deviating too far left, his daughter’s speech was nonetheless a horrific display of dehumanizing rhetoric from a legitimate candidate for the Presidency in 2017. Her speech begs the question: what would become of France if it the FN was the dominant political party?

Header photo credit to author

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Nathan H Dize is in the Masters program in Modern French Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. He also the main translator and content curator of a Digital Humanities project sponsored by the University of Maryland Libraries in partnership with the Department of French and Italian entitled: A Colony in Crisis: The Saint-Domingue Grain Shortage of 1789. Nathan's research focuses on gender, race, and sexuality in Francophone and Caribbean film, history, and literature.

Nathan Dize is a graduate student in Modern French Studies.

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