Strange bedfellows: How the far right and Islamic State are feeding off each other in French politics

European and American leaders must back up their words with action if they are to tackle the twin threats to Western democracy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 December, 2015, 10:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 December, 2015, 10:11pm

Support at local elections for non-mainstream political parties may be warning signals of discontent with the major parties, but it rarely amounts to a credible threat to them in voting for national government. In the wake of the latest terrorist atrocity in Paris, Marine Le Pen and her far-right National Front have delivered just such a shock to France’s political system, winning half the regions and 28 per cent of the ballot in the first round of voting for regional government, including 40 per cent for Le Pen in an industrial socialist stronghold in Calais.

While she remains an outside chance in the 2017 presidential election, it is now not inconceivable that she could mount a serious challenge if she can keep up the momentum in the opinion polls.

Meanwhile, another winner from the regional elections is Islamic State, which would see the swing to Le Pen’s anti-immigration party as vindication of its violent campaign to divide target societies against themselves and further fuel the alienation of Muslim communities, the most fertile recruiting grounds for future jihadis.

Le Pen may have distanced NF from the anti-Semitism of her predecessor and father Jean Marie, but she stands by xenophobic policies that strike at the values of European unity such as discriminatory opposition to immigration, protectionism and dismantling the euro zone. The Schengen agreement which allows passport-free movement across most of Europe is already under pressure from the migrant/refugee crisis swamping the continent, and straining ties.

If the NF’s momentum is to be halted, President Francois Hollande and centre-right opposition leader Nicolas Sarkozy must respond to people’s concerns, which are rooted in economic worries. And if Islamic State and its sympathisers are to be stopped from dictating a xenophobic agenda with terror, American and European leaders must back words with action if they are to show the strong leadership needed.