Marine Le Pen’s anti-Islam message gains influence in France

Well before the attacks that killed 129 people in Paris on Friday, Marine Le Pen, the president of the far-right National Front party, was parlaying fear of Islam, migrants and open borders into political support. Now, with France angry and in mourning, she is seizing the opportunity to expand her appeal and show her clout, underscoring how far-right messages are resonating across Europe. “France and the French are no longer safe,” Ms. Le Pen said in a speech the day after the attacks, demanding a crackdown on Islamists in the country.

Analysts said Ms. Le Pen’s already favorable prospects in regional elections in three weeks have most likely been given a lift, strengthening her position as a possible presidential candidate in 2017. She has also succeeded in pulling the political center of gravity in France to the right, forcing the main center-right party to adopt a stronger anti-immigration stance and taking positions in the wake of Friday’s attacks that were subsequently adopted by President François Hollande, a Socialist.

After Ms. Le Pen’s speech on Saturday, two stars in the National Front — her vice president and close adviser, Florian Philippot, and her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen — renewed the offensive, bolstered by the discovery of a Syrian passport near the remains of one of the suicide bombers at the national soccer stadium.

“It really poses the question that we have been asking, that they will infiltrate the migratory flux that is arriving in Europe,” Mr. Philippot said Monday on a television news program.

“It is irresponsible to continue this welcoming of migrants,” he said. “And this is a question that will be asked increasingly in coming weeks.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Maréchal-Le Pen, a 25-year-old telegenic parliamentary deputy who stands a good chance of being elected president of the Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur region in the next elections, lashed out on television at immigration in the wake of the attacks.

“Today, we can see that immigration has become favorable terrain for the development of Islamism,” she said.

Analysts said this repeated connection — immigration equals Islamism and terrorism — is playing powerfully in the minds of voters.

“Very probably, yes, she will profit from this,” said Sylvain Crépon, a National Front expert at the university in Tours, in central France. He recalled that after train attacks in 1995, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front leader and Ms. Le Pen’s father, was given a sharp electoral boost after making a link between immigration and security.

“It is certain that the discourse of Marine Le Pen, which makes the same link, stands a good chance of becoming perfectly resonant in the population,” Mr. Crépon said. “All the more so because she has said that among the immigrants there would be terrorists. One could predict that this will prove profitable to the Front.”

Other experts on the Front agreed that the party would benefit. “It certainly will fuel the National Front,” said Nonna Mayer of the CNRS research institute. “We have images of refugees every day, and now, terrorism,” Ms. Mayer said. “The National Front has been saying, ‘We have been warning you for the last 10 years.’ At first sight it will help their dynamic, which is already excellent.”

Across Europe, right-wing and far-right parties have also been capitalizing on the attacks.

In Germany, the anti-immigrant Pegida group organized a march of 10,000 in Dresden on Monday evening, and one of the organizers quoted Ms. Le Pen at length. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Parliament on Monday that “terrorists have exploited mass migration.” In Poland, a minister in the new conservative government published an article on a right-wing website suggesting that, given the events in Paris, Poland might have to reconsider plans to accept nearly 7,000 migrants.

Ms. Le Pen’s first reaction on Saturday suggested that the disaster she had long predicted had finally arrived. She then demanded a crackdown on Islamists in France, which would go on to be taken up, down to the details, by the country’s Socialist government over the next few days.

Farhad Khosrokhavar of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales said he expected a strong political reaction against Muslims in France in coming months.

“There is likely to be more of a shift to the extreme right, which will become stronger in the months to come,” he said.

Analysts here have long expressed admiration for Ms. Le Pen’s political skills, even as they have suggested that her exclusionary message is harmful to France. She has handled the aftermath of Friday’s attacks with particular deftness, several suggested.

First, the proposals that she made Saturday, to “expel foreigners who preach hatred on our soil” and to strip binational Islamists of citizenship, were immediately endorsed, in one form or another, by France’s Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls, and by Mr. Hollande, who suggested the measure should be applied to those convicted of terrorism even if they were born French citizens.

The newspaper Le Monde said Mr. Hollande had made a “180-degree turnaround” on this point.

And then, unlike after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January, Ms. Le Pen was careful to moderate her tone somewhat, associating herself with the mood of national unity and grief, and lightening her criticism of the government.

“She made a faux pas after Charlie Hebdo, refusing to associate herself with national unity,” Mr. Crépon said. “This time, she didn’t make the same mistake. She has tried, in spite of everything, to be part of this moment of national unity.”