Marine Le Pen is a force to be reckoned with on the European far right. Staunchly anti-immigrant, fiercely nationalistic and opposed to the European Union, she traces her heritage – literally – in the neo-Fascist leadership of France’s history.
For many years, the National Front Party she inherited from her father Jean-Marie was shunned by mainstream politics. But recently Le Pen has successfully rehabilitated its image, cleaning up a racist, holocaust-denying reputation to lead the party to success among the electorate and commentariat.
And in terms of mainstream acceptance, it's difficult to beat a slot in the New York Times – which is exactly what Le Pen got yesterday, for a column on Britain’s shock exit from the EU.
Unsurprisingly, Le Pen is pretty thrilled with the Brexit – calling it “an act of courage – the courage of a people who embrace their freedom”. She’s taking inspiration from the bravery of the UK split – which has caused racist attacks to spike in inverse proportion to crashing markets – to call for a similar referendum in France.
But many questioned the wisdom of giving a platform to a leader of the far right in Europe. Sara Lazare at Alternet argued that the newspaper was legitimising fascism by publishing the column, and called out NYT’s failure to draw attention to Le Pen’s status as a far-right leader.
Anti-racist activists like the Southern Poverty Law Centre said the National Front cooperates with far-right groups in the US, suggesting the rise of groups that have, in the past, sat outside the political mainstream may be a danger in America as well as Europe.
I really can't believe the @nytimes gave Marine Le Pen a column.— Hari Kunzru (@harikunzru) 28 June 2016
The tone of Le Pen’s article is, at the least, eyebrow-raising in its invocation of a staunch nationalism. “The only question left to ask is whether Europe is ready to rid itself of its illusions, or if the return to reason will come with suffering,” she wrote. “I made my decision a long time ago: I chose France. I chose sovereign nations. I chose freedom.”
Those NYT readers that commented on the piece were mixed in their response. Some agreed with the sentiment, while others wrote that in her column Le Pen had revealed an ignorant, xenophobic outlook.
It’s not the first time the New York Times have published the work of Le Pen. After the Charlie Hebdo Massacre last year, she penned another op-ed for the paper arguing that it was time to name the threat to France as specifically Islamic in nature. Then, the decision was also heavily criticised – particularly because the paper had refused to reprint cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo magazine.
Is France’s National Front now a legitimate force in international politics? The NYT might have called it – or played a part in making it happen.
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