While French voters head to the first round of presidential elections on Sunday, the duet of extremism and counter-extremism has thrown its shadow on the country. The terrorist attacks claimed by ISIS have struck fear among the French people.
Terrorist groups are the happiest with the extremist approach of presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extremist right that has benefitted the most from this terrorist wave. The more ISIS increases its terrorism, the more Le Pen stresses her antagonism to Islam, not extremists.
When ISIS claimed responsibility for an armed attack on a police car in Champs-Élysées earlier this week, Le Pen replied by calling for the closure of “the Muslim mosques” in France, not extremist ones. This is only one new episode of extremism and counter-extremism hitting Europe in the past five years and is evident in the presidential elections in France.
Le Pen is always controversial in her attitude towards Islam and Muslims and her incitement to hatred, discrimination and anti-Semitism have led a number of European deputies to call for lifting her parliamentary immunity. Her extremist stances have also taken on a racist edge where in the past she had targeted French football players, especially those of Algerian origin, such as Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri. She also targeted Franck Ribéry who is married to an Algerian. She described them as immoral and haters of the French team and said that they only want to accumulate money and mock the French people.
These extremist stances have made Le Pen – head of a party that had been shunned during her father’s tenure – a strong presidential candidate. France Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve had meanwhile accused her of exploiting the Champs-Élysées attack to spread fear and sedition for political purposes.
Political exploitation of developments for electoral gains is understandable, but they become a very dangerous matter once these methods encourage extremism in the world. It is impossible to combat terrorism with extremism. On the contrary, it expands its circles and grants its perpetrators illusory justifications to incite their supporters.
There is no doubt that Le Pen’s rhetoric is not only backed by the extremists, but it is starting to spread, especially after she pledged to take France out of the Schengen agreement and to restore the French Franc to replace the unified European currency (euro). In most communities, no matter how developed they are, popular rhetoric will always be supported by various segments of society. Add to that the exploitation of the fear of terrorist groups, then attempting to win over voters will not be very difficult, even if they live in such a democratically prestigious country as France. In the past, the bet was on the French voters’ ability to limit the far-right’s advance to a certain limit line. This line however has started to fade.
The French elections are being held at a time of tensions in Europe in wake of the British people’s vote to exit the European Union and the rise of the far-right in several parts of the continent. These polls have been dominated by several main files in recent weeks before ISIS was able to impose itself as a decisive voter after the Champs-Élysées attack. France is a nuclear power that cannot be underestimated. It also enjoys the sixth largest economy in the world and is a founding member of the EU, which makes its presidential elections an anticipated event. It is unfortunate that counter-extremism is the solution that some politicians and voters are looking for. If we add to that the Muslim community in France’s failure to eliminate Le Pen’s stances from the minds of the French community and their failure to show the true image of the tolerant Islam then the extremists have found the road wide open for them to show the tarnished image of Islam that Le Pen and her party have latched on to.
It is not surprising that ISIS, or “voter number one”, chose to carry out its attack two days before the first round of the French elections. It is presenting a priceless gift to Le Pen, pushing her to obtain the support of 40 percent of the undecided voters. If ISIS is voting for of the leader of the far-right, then it will definitely be the happiest should she win and become president.