The question being asked by many in France on Thursday, is whether National Front leader Marine Le Pen has been watching too much Homeland – the American TV drama in which an American marine 'turns' and becomes a radical Islamist terrorist during his captivity in Iraq.
The controversy comes after the far-right politician expressed her “unease” at the behaviour and appearance of four former hostages, upon their emotional return to France on Wednesday – even demanding that one of the men explain why he wore an Arab scarf.
Many in France were moved and heartened by images of the four men – described as “great French citizens” by French president François Hollande – being reunited with their loved ones after three years in captivity at the hands of Al Qaeda-linked terrorists.
During her interview with Europe 1 radio on Wednesday morning, Le Pen was asked if she shared in that emotion.
“Those images left me very doubtful, quite honestly,” she replied. “I found them astonishing – the extreme reservation [of the hostages]. I found their attire astonishing.”
“I really felt uneasy watching those images, and I don’t think I was the only one.”
(L to R): Freed French hostages Marc Feret, Pierre Legrand, Daniel Larribe and Thierry Dol, stand with French president François Hollande (2nd from R) Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP
Pressed to clarify exactly what she meant, Le Pen appeared to to imply there were sinister explanations for the group’s behaviour and dress.
“You understand perfectly well what I’m saying, because I think many French people felt this way.”
“They appeared very hesitant and reserved. [There were] the two who had their beards trimmed in an astonishing way. And their clothes were very strange,” she added.
“[Then there was] this hostage with the cheche [Arab scarf] over his face – all of this deserves a few explanations on their part.”
Asked straight out whether she believed the men had been radicalized by their Islamist captors – Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – her response was once again open to various interpretations.
“No, look, I’m not a psychiatrist,” she said. “I’m just expressing to you how I felt, and I think it was shared by a certain number of French people…I’m not going to go as far as coming up with theories, that wouldn’t be my place.”
'A paranoid delusion' that 'sees Islamification everywhere'
Her comments have been criticized on both the Left and Right in France as either unreasonable, or an unacceptable insinuation that some or all of the men had been radicalised by their extremist Islamist captors.
Centre-right UMP senator Roger Karoutchi took to Twitter to ridicule the far-right politician.
“Held in the desert for 37 months. Marine Le Pen would have liked it if the hostages came home close-shaven and wearing three-piece suits.”
37 mois detenus dans le désert,Marine Le Pen aurait voulu que les otages nous reviennent en costumes 3 pièces et rasés de près.Comment dire?— Roger KAROUTCHI (@RKaroutchi) October 31, 2013
Socialist MP Yann Galut, for his part, accused the National Front leader of having “paranoid delusions.”
“Marine Le Pen is giving us a paranoid delusion regarding these hostages. In fact, it’s just an extension of the [kind of] thinking which sees Islamification everywhere.”
Some commentators have also mocked Le Pen for the similarity between what they interpret as an insinuation that the men were radicalized, and the plot of the hit American TV show Homeland.
“Is Marine Le Pen a victim of Homeland syndrome?” asked French news website Metro France.
“A former captive who comes home radicalized after years away – a conspiracy theory worthy of Homeland,” added Metro journalist Julie Mendel.
The episode, perhaps inevitably, inspired an internet meme on Wednesday, with Marine Le Pen portrayed as Carrie Mathison, the paranoid schizophrenic CIA agent who – to the scepticism of everyone around her – accuses US Marine Nicolas Brody of having become an Islamist militant on the Showtime drama.
Blogger Guillaume TC offered this image.