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'France's far right can gain from Paris terror'

Oliver Gee · 13 Jan 2015, 16:00

Published: 13 Jan 2015 15:00 GMT+01:00
Updated: 13 Jan 2015 16:00 GMT+01:00

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The leaders of France's National Front party, the third largest political party in the country, were not invited to Sunday's march in Paris that attracted 1.5 million people.
Instead, party leader Marine Le Pen led a demonstration of her own in the FN-controlled southern town of Beaucaire.
But perhaps Le Pen didn't need to be in Paris as the world watched. The attacks themselves - which killed 17 in the French capital - could end up adding wind to the nationalist party's sails at a time when the party is already flying high in the polls.
"It's possible that these attacks are a turning point in French politics," researcher and far right specialist Jean-Yves Camus from the think-tank Iris (Institute of international relations and strategy) told The Local.
"Undecided voters may take the issues of immigration and Islam into consideration in a way they might not have done if the attacks had not taken place. It's 100 percent true that the National Front can benefit from all this."
But if the National Front may see a boost the next time the French go to polls, Camus believes that it won't be down to Le Pen and her father's efforts to appeal to voters in the wake of the attacks.
"I didn't think their 'political meeting' in Beaucaire was a very good public relations initiative. And anyway, the demonstrations in Paris were so huge that I saw almost no footage of the National Front at all," he said.
Camus also said that Marine Le Pen's call for the reintroduction of the death penalty in the aftermath of the attacks was "totally pointless".
(In the tweet above, Le Pen says she wants to hold a referendum on the death penalty as she believes this possibility "should exist".)
"Most French people realize that when it comes to Islamic terrorists that they are prepared to die as martyrs anyway. France wouldn't be impressed by the idea of bringing the death penalty back, it's a pointless gesture," he said.
He added that Le Pen was trying to look "as mainstream as possible, as usual" with her comments, and that the real negative publicity came from her father - National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who said "Sorry, but I'm not Charlie".
Le Pen senior later referred to those marching as "charlots" - the French nickname for Charlie Chaplin that also means "clown".
"His comments showed France exactly where the National Front stands on the extreme right of the political spectrum," Camus explained. 
Camus concluded that while he hadn't seen anyone openly supporting the far right during Sunday's marches, he was glad it was only the party heads and not the supporters who were banned. 
"If you say to National Front voters that they can't be part of a demonstration then you're telling them they can't be part of a national community. They like to see themselves as an ostracized segment of the community and it gives fuel to the party," he explained.
"They should be told that if they truly stand for democracy, human rights, and the freedom of speech, then of course they are welcome to attend."
But the terrorist attacks in France will not just have an impact on the political scene within France. The shootings have sent ripples across Europe, where some countries have already seen anti-immigration and anti-Islam sentiments on the rise.
What happens next is anyone's guess, Camus believes, saying that it was "impossible to predict" what Europe could expect next from the rising tide of the far right. 
But the signs are already there. Anti-Islam sentiment has cropped up across Europe since the Paris shootings.
In Germany, members of the growing Anti-Islam Pegida movement ("Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West") have come together to condemn the Paris attacks. One march saw a record 25,000 people rally in Dresden on Monday night.
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German officials pleaded for the group to stay at home. 
"If the organizers had a shred of decency they would simply cancel these demonstrations," Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the Bild newspaper. "It's simply disgusting how the people behind these protests are trying to exploit the despicable crimes in Paris."
Counter protests against anti-Muslim sentiment have seen seen soaring support across Germany, however, with 100,000 marching on Monday night. 
Elsewhere, Swiss members of Pegida plan to march in February, and activists have called for spin-off groups in Austria and Scandinavia, reported the AFP news agency.
In France it's still anyone's guess how the attacks will shape the political landscape, but the march has already begun for the National Front.
Not only did the party come out on top in the European elections in May, but opinion polls from before the attack suggest that Le Pen and co are popular enough to reach the second round of the presidential elections in 2017. 
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