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France Could Elect A President With Seriously Troubling Ideas About Religion

25/04/2017 3:01 AM IST | Updated 25/04/2017 3:02 AM IST
Charles Platiau / Reuters
Marine Le Pen, French National Front political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, delivers a speech after early results in the first round of the election Sunday in Henin-Beaumont, France.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right, anti-immigrant National Front party, came in second place Sunday in the country’s first round of voting in the presidential election.

The presidency now depends on a May 7 runoff election between Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, an independent, centrist candidate who is being supported by French and European politicians across the political spectrum.

Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who helped found the National Front. Marine Le Pen took control of the party in 2011 and has tried to distance herself politically from her father’s racist and openly anti-Semitic views, going so far as to help push him out of the party in 2015. In just a few years, she’s helped to transform the National Front from a fringe party to a serious contender for political power in France.

But Le Pen’s rise to power doesn’t necessarily bode well for France’s religious minorities. Le Pen claims she’s not “waging a religious war,” but she has championed French secularism at the expense of religious minorities’ ability to express their faith in public. 

Below, The Huffington Post has gathered just seven of the troubling ideas Le Pen has espoused about religious minorities. From her bashing of Muslim women who wear the headscarf, to her calculated attempts to pit French Jews against French Muslims, Le Pen’s past comments make it clear if she wins it would become even harder for France’s religious minorities to practice their faith. 

She compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation. 

During a National Front rally in 2010, Le Pen responded to reports of Muslims praying in public in French cities with a disturbing comparison. The Muslims had reportedly turned to public spaces because of a lack of space in local mosques.

“I’m sorry, but for those who really like to talk about the Second World War, if we’re talking about occupation, we can also talk about this while we’re at it, because this is an occupation of territory,” Le Pen reportedly said during the rally.

“It’s an occupation of swaths of territory, of areas in which religious laws apply … for sure, there are no tanks, no soldiers, but it’s an occupation all the same and it weighs on people.”

She was charged with inciting hatred after those comments, and later acquitted. 

Pascal Rossignol / Reuters
A woman walks past official posters of candidates for the 2017 French presidential election at a local market in Bethune, France.

She can’t seem to distinguish between terrorism and religion.

During and after the American presidential elections, U.S. President Donald Trump promised that he would name and eradicate what he called “radical Islamic terrorism.” His use of the phrase was a departure from the strategies of former presidents Barack Obama and George Bush ― both of whom avoided using a term that linked violence propagated by terrorists to the religious beliefs of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

Le Pen has her own version of the phrase ― she calls it “Islamic fundamentalism.” In an op-ed for The New York Times in January 2015, written days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Le Pen criticized French officials for refusing to link the terrorist attacks to Islam. 

“Let us call things by their rightful names, since the French government seems reluctant to do so. France, land of human rights and freedoms, was attacked on its own soil by a totalitarian ideology: Islamic fundamentalism,” she wrote.

She has applauded Trump’s Muslim ban.

After Trump signed an executive order restricting refugee admissions from seven Muslim-majority countries in January, a member of Le Pen’s campaign said that the National Front would be open to issuing a similar ban in France. 

“And why not?” Steeve Briois, National Front’s vice president, told Agence France-Presse. “We are no longer in the world of the Care Bears. We are in a horrible world, so sometimes you have to take measures of authority, even if it shocks.”

Le Pen herself has applauded the travel ban. 

“I think Donald Trump and his intelligence services wanted to set up criteria and conditions to avoid having potential terrorists enter the United States, where they might commit attacks, the same way that France was the victim of attacks,” she told CNN.

Charles Platiau / Reuters
Marine Le Pen (L), a candidate for France's presidential election, casts her ballot in the first round of the election at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, on Sunday.

She doesn’t think Muslim women who wear the headscarf can be truly French. 

Although Le Pen has tried to paint herself as being opposed to “Islamic fundamentalism,” it’s clear from her language about Muslim women that she sees Islam itself as a problem.

In an interview with Anderson Cooper last month, Le Pen reiterated her stance against the headscarf some Muslim women wear as part of their religious practice. 

“I’m opposed to wearing headscarves in public places. That’s not France,” she said in the interview. “There’s something I just don’t understand: The people who come to France, why would they want to change France, to live in France the same way they lived back home?’

The headscarf has long been a subject of debate in France. Hijabs and other religious articles of clothing were banned from public schools in 2004. In 2011, France banned women from wearing full-face veils in public places ― even though only about 2,000 of France’s 5 million Muslims are believed to wear full veils.

During her campaign, Le Pen has consistently presented Islam as a religion that is inherently unfriendly toward women.

During a rally last week, she said, “In France, we respect women, we don’t beat them, we don’t ask them to hide themselves behind a veil as if they were impure.”

She doesn’t think France should be held responsible for its participation in the Holocaust. 

In 1942, French police rounded up more than 13,000 Jewish men, women and children at a sporting arena in Paris, many of whom were then sent to their deaths at Auschwitz. 

Earlier this month, Le Pen stated that she doesn’t think France is responsible for that raid, which was ordered by Nazi officers. 

“I think that generally speaking if there are people responsible, it’s those who were in power at the time. It’s not France,” she said.

Former French presidents have assumed the opposite position, apologizing formally for the roundup.

Le Pen’s opponent in the French election, Emmanuel Macron, said her comments reflect the fact that she is still her father’s daughter.

Jean-Marie Le Pen has been convicted numerous times of contesting crimes against humanity for claiming that the gas chambers used to kill Jewish people during the Holocaust were a mere “detail” of history.

Charles Platiau / Reuters
Marine Le Pen (C), French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election poses in front of her campaign headquarters in Paris, France, April 24, 2017.

She believes Jews shouldn’t wear kippas in public. 

Le Pen has attempted to disentangle herself from her father’s blatant anti-Semitism ― sometimes by pitting French Jews against Muslims.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 News, she said she believes French Jews should be willing to sacrifice their ability to wear kippas in order to join in a “struggle against radical Islam.” Le Pen, who believes no one should wear outwardly religious clothing in public, portrayed Jews giving up their religious symbols as a necessary and patriotic “sacrifice.” 

“I mainly think the struggle against radical Islam should be a joint struggle and everyone should say, ‘There, we are sacrificing something,’” Le Pen said in 2015. “Maybe they will do with just wearing a hat, but it would be a step in the effort to stamp out radical Islam in France.”

She’s actually glad when religious minorities don’t speak up. 

When Anderson Cooper asked Le Pen if Sikhs should be allowed to wear turbans, she responded, “No, not in public.”

Her response was reflective of how little she cared about the protection of religious minorities’ ability to practice their faith.

“We don’t have a lot of Sikhs in France. We’ve got some. But we don’t really hear much from them or about them. Which is good news.”

The remarks have left Sikhs in France worried about the future ― and wondering if they should leave France if Le Pen wins the presidency. 

“For me France will not be a welcoming country for Sikhs and any people who want to live his or her religion freely,” Talwinder Kaur, a Sikh mother living in France, told NDTV

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