(Continued from last week)
The Campaign Must Go On
While Le Pen immediately cited Merah’s crime as proof of the connection between immigration, Islam, and violence, the media narrative was framed to disconnect Islam from this murderous hatred though the terms “jihad” and “jihadist” were widely employed, and the media did include information about Merah’s radicalization. In the ensuing election campaign, the Socialists opted for the deprivation/marginalization explanation while Sarkozy proposed legislation that would criminalize radicalization—for example, training in Pakistani jihad camps—making it possible to arrest men like Merah before they go into action.
But the issue of Islam’s coexistence with Western society and its values was allocated to the Front National. Every time the UMP raised the question, it was accused by the Socialists, the media, and some of its own members of appealing to the public’s worst instincts, sucking up to Le Pen’s supporters, and stoking irrational fears, xenophobia, and “Islamophobia.” At the opposite end of the spectrum, counter-jihad militants dismissed Sarkozy’s “empty rhetoric” and tallied up his sins of past concessions to Islam.
In fact, Le Pen had neither the political savvy nor the party machine to capitalize on her first-round success. In ensuing legislative elections, she was defeated in her bid for reelection as deputy of the town of Hénin-Beaumont by her arch rival, the leftist Front de Gauche presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The Front National ended up with a grand total of two deputies in parliament: Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Marine’s 20-year-old niece, and lawyer Gilbert Collard (who is not even a card-carrying party member). No longer useful for the Left’s divide and conquer strategy, Marine Le Pen and her meager band of supporters disappeared from the media.
Faced with a choice between a muted appeal to the Center and a resolute attempt to consolidate his right-wing base and win back Front National voters, Sarkozy chose the latter line of attack. Accused by Left and Center of selling his soul to the Front National devil, the battling incumbent rose to the height of his political skills and attracted an increasingly enthusiastic following. His defense of family values, the work ethic, and patriotism were equated by his detractors with the infamous “travail, famille, patrie” of Maréchal Petain. His concern for decent people in poor neighborhoods victimized by thugs was met with contempt and cries of “populism.” They called him a xenophobe for linking immigration with criminality, abuse of social services, and a damaged school system. His warnings against the dangers of Islamic radicalization earned him the “Islamophobe” label. In the counter-jihad camp, voters closed their ears to his siren’s song. He did not deliver when he was Interior minister; he did nothing when he was president; we don’t want to hear it!
In the course of a three-hour presidential debate on May 2, 2011, the candidates had a fiery exchange on the subject of the Socialist candidate’s promise to grant voting rights to foreigners in municipal elections. With the brutal Ozar Hatorah murders still alive in the collective mind, Sarkozy said this would encourage communautarisme (clannishness, tribalism, identity politics) at a time of extreme tension “between communities” and intense pressure for radicalization. A righteously indignant Hollande snapped back: What gives you the right to say that non-European immigrants are Muslim? Sarkozy responded at length and in detail, challenging his opponent to face the reality that immigration is essentially from Muslim countries of the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. These immigrants, he said, were the source of conflict. If they voted in municipal elections they would make demands based on Islamic practices. Reiterating his hallmark call for an “Islam of France” not an “Islam in France” and citing his own record of defending the religious freedom of Muslims, Sarkozy noted that Muslims were treated better in France than Christians in the Muslim world. Hollande, rebuffing the slightest insinuation that Muslim voters would exert communitarian pressure, promised there would be no breach of the principle of laïcité (the relegation of religion to the private sphere) under his presidency.
When it came time for the second round of voting, Mélenchon’s Front de Gauche supporters along with the Green Party and a smattering of anti-capitalist formations, high on ferocious Palestinianism, cast their votes for Hollande, making no secret of their utter disagreement with his platform. Hollande’s campaign manager, Pierre Moscovici, assured his fellow Jews that Hollande would indeed cultivate the votes of these somewhat unsavory parties, but they would have no influence whatsoever on his policies as president.
The proliferation of flags from Muslim-majority countries at Hollande’s victory celebration was graphic evidence of this support. Apologists explained away the foreign flag waving as the normally variegated enthusiasm of diversity. But a television team interviewed some Palestinian-flag wavers who repeated new variants on old canards (e.g., Israeli soldiers mow down Palestinian children on their way to the mosque), promising to head over there and kill all the Israelis.
What transformed the predicted landslide defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy into a narrow victory for François Hollande (51.67 vs. 48.3 percent)? Though the totality of the far Left vote, including an estimated 93 percent of the Muslim vote, went to François Hollande, this alone would not have ensured his victory.
It seems clear that Sarkozy limited Hollande’s numbers by addressing the Islam exasperation of his party’s base. The loss of a significant portion of this “counter-jihad” vote, diverted in the beginning to the Front National, blocked Sarkozy’s momentum in the first round and deprived him of decisive votes in the second. This was compounded by the desertion of morally indignant centrists who accused the president of leading his party into the disgraceful clutches of the far Right.
The elections are over, but the debate continues, not only within the UMP, as it determines its policy of reconquest, but also within the Socialist government, confronted with a problem that will not go away. For Jews in France, the issue is stated with terrible acuity: The future of their community in the country—as in the rest of Europe—depends on the government’s capacity to identify and deal with this problem.
The Islamic factor will not go away. This summer, punk jihadists on the warpath caused a million Euros of damage in the housing projects of Amiens; thugs fired at police in Grigny; drug dealers are mowing each other down in the streets of Marseille; teachers are getting insurance coverage for injuries inflicted by students or their parents after a teacher in Bordeaux was beaten by a student offended by a history of religion lesson on Islam.
Jean François Copé is competing with former prime minister François Fillon for the presidency of the UMP on a platform that carries over Sarkozy’s campaign themes. He has vowed to defend a party that will confront the issues without political correctness, defend law-abiding citizens against criminals, and promote enterprise, innovation, and self-reliance. But neither he nor any of the other candidates, parties, or elected officials are up for an unambiguous confrontation with Islam. When Jamel Ghabi, a French elected official was nearly killed by a group of Salafis in Bizerte, his Tunisian birthplace, because of the “immodest” dress of his wife and 12-year-old daughter, Copé decried the attack by “extremists” who have nothing to do with a religion and a society moving toward democracy. Interior Minister Manuel Vals vowed to bring law and order to Marseille without stigmatizing the population while Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius balanced out strong words against Iran’s president Ahmadinejad with a reminder that the Israelis should give the Palestinians a state.
The economic crises of modern days may come and go, but the survival of civilization depends on intelligent decisions by informed citizens and courageous statesmen. The 9/11 anniversary murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his colleagues by Libyan jihadists, along with attacks on Western embassies and institutions throughout Muslim-majority countries are alarm bells for those who are willing to listen. The Israeli ambassador to Egypt has been working in temporary quarters since the embassy was torched last year. All other issues pale beside the existential triangle: Islam, Israel, and Iran. Will Israel, the only Western nation in which the governing party is resolutely counter-jihad, lead the free world into a new strategy of resolute self-defense and preemptive operations? Which side of the chessboard will the newly-elected U.S. administration choose? And finally: Whither France?
Nidra Poller is an American novelist and journalist living in Paris since 1972. The English version of her collection of short stories, Karimi Hotel and Other African Equations, will be published by Authorship Intl in 2013.
 “Débat Hollande Sarkozy Intégral,” The Daily Motion (Paris), accessed Sept. 28, 2012.
 Pierre Moscovici, presentation at a meeting of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France, l’espace Rachi, Paris, Apr. 2, 2012.