Last week I posted the announcement of a new political movement called the Nouvelle Droite Populaire (New Popular Right), formed out of necessity, as an attempt to fill the gaping hole in French conservative politics. The UMP party of Nicolas Sarkozy is only intermittently conservative, and chronically reluctant to criticize openly its leader or to take firm stands on anything. The Front National of Jean-Marie Le Pen has suffered electoral reversals, diminished funding and justified bad publicity as a result of Le Pen's mean-spiritedness and deliberate provocations. His daughter and designated successor Marine Le Pen has not succeeded in winning over those members who left the FN in anger and frustration.
The troubles that weigh on Le Pen have not deterred him from repeating the very remarks that aroused a furor decades ago and started the party on its self-destructive path.
I do not believe in making speech a criminal act punishable by imprisonment or fines. But we are responsible for what we say, and if we make an error it behooves us not to repeat it over and over. The fact that Le Pen repeats his error means that he is doing it deliberately to prove that there is no freedom of speech in France when it comes to criticizing Jews. However, the end result is that he has turned so many people against him that now, nobody cares what he says or why he says it.
The Front National would have had credibility if Le Pen had used his powerful rhetoric only to criticize the Left (including the many Jews who belong to it), rather than bringing up the issue of Hitler's gas chambers, if he had held his anti-Americanism in check, rather than taking the side of Ahmadinejad, if he had never sought the friendship of or given his friendship to people like Dieudonné or Marxist Alain Soral, both professional anti-Semites and agents provocateurs.
Le Pen played around with his people, now promising them grand old patriotism, now grand old Nazism. So many people were fooled, or hoped he would change, or were willing to put up with his shenanigans, if in the end, he delivered the country from the Left, from May 68. But that was never his intent.
Last month just as the Nouvelle Droite Populaire was forming, Jean-Marie Le Pen was once again attempting to attract bad publicity, the only kind he gets nowadays. Clever as usual, he succeeded in prompting Le Figaro to juxtapose remarks about the gas chambers with criticism of Muslim immigration:
In an interview published in the April 25 edition of the "Breton", a regional magazine, the leader of the Front National repeated that to him it was "obvious that the gas chambers were a detail of the Second World War." He first used the word "detail" in 1987 on RTL radio. In 2005, in an interview with the BBC he used the word again.
In the course of the interview with the journalist of the regional monthly that circulates in Bretagne and the Paris region, Jean-Marie Le Pen used the figure of 50 million to describe the total deaths in the Second World War. The journalist interrupted to say that the "problem is not the number of deaths, but the way in which they were killed, and the fact that they were deported to the camps expressly to be killed." The leader of the FN replied:
"But that's what you believe. I feel no obligation to adhere to that vision. I say that in Auschwitz there was the IG Farben factory, that there were 80,000 workers there. As far as I know, they were not in any case gassed or incinerated."
The journalist retorted that the work of historians of all political stripes has proven the reality of deportations with extermination as the goal. Le Pen replied:
"That isn't the problem. I'm not questioning that. I said it was a detail. Why should that merit 150 million in fines? Is this a free country where one sentence, no matter how controversial, uttered by a public figure, merits 150 million in fines, the blackballing of the person and his party?" This was an allusion to the court proceedings that followed his original comment in 1987.
In the same interview Le Pen made some pertinent remarks about the Muslim presence in France, but when these comments are juxtaposed with the above statements, he comes across as both anti-Semitic and "Islamophobic", two equally condemnable positions in the eyes of the anti-racists and the French media.
He explained that he "is not sure" if France will still exist in 50 years, since "on paper" there will be a Muslim majority" as there already is in "Roubaix, Marseilles, and the Parisian suburbs where, when you come out of the Metro, you find yourself in Timbuktu or Casablanca. The Muslim population in Quimper does not put on the traditional headdress. It puts on the veil. And the Breton woman who lives in that neighborhood of Quimper also puts on the veil, to avoid problems."
For the record Jean-Marie Le Pen insists he ordered the Breton magazine not to publish the interview and he accuses the monthly of having leaked ahead of publication "passages that sound provocative". He claims he even sent a letter by certified mail two weeks before publication forbidding the interview to be printed. Maybe he did. But he could not possibly have thought they would not publish the interview.
The fallout from this incident has been quick in coming. Several FN leaders have disassociated themselves from their chairman. Catholic writer and activist Bernard Antony, a former Le Pen collaborator, has denounced the comments, and messages at the forums of nationalist websites all point to a feeling of disdain for the man they once believed in.
Here is the reaction of Bernard Antony to the most recent "detail" in the public life of Jean-Marie Le Pen:
From whichever aspect you regard them – political, historical, psychoanalytical, the latest declarations of Jean-Marie Le Pen are troubling for the members of the French national Right, whose ideals and political mission do not include a defense of the structures of the concentration camps of Germany's Third Reich.
A reminder that for us, the Reich was one of the two great ideological and exterminatory abominations of the 20th century; the other one, alas, even worse in scope and duration - communism, still ruling in China.
On the other hand, the remarks uttered by the head of the Front National, which by virtue of their repetition, have little or no impact on the last remaining leaders and workers of the party, are welcomed with delight by the enemies of the national cause. Trying to be, no doubt, as true to his own caricature as possible, Jean-Marie Le Pen provides them once again with the ingredients for their discussions and their habit of associating elements that are disparate and incompatible ("amalgames").
For groups such as MRAP, LICRA and other so-called anti-racist associations, he is a benefactor through his ideological (and even financial!) masochism.
Since nothing points to any potential renewal of the Front National, or to a satisfactory successor, I urge the last party members to join together freely and prepare the necessary and modern confederation of right-wing parties, united on the fundamental principles of defense of life, family, social justice, the fatherland and a Europe that reaffirms the Greco-Latin and Judeo-Christian roots of its civilization.