Marine Le Pen has promised to defend France from creeping “Islamisation” days before she is expected to take over from her father as head of the National Front party.
The 42-year-old is seen as a potentially dangerous threat to President Nicolas Sarkozy if chosen to succeed Jean-Marie Le Pen in a mid-January party congress almost 40 years after he founded the party.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Miss Le Pen, said: “The progressive Islamisation of our country and the increase in political-religious demands are calling into question the survival of our civilisation.”
“We are fighting against Islamism, not Islam”, she said.
“Islamism is the will to impose Shariah for all as civil, political and religious law. We Western societies are fighting against Islamism all around the world. We have sent our kids to Afghanistan to be killed to fight against Islamism, and we don’t have the right in France through words and political action to fight it? That seems totally absurd to me,” she said.
Miss Le Pen said examples of creeping Islamisation included pork being taken off the menu in certain French schools, the fact that 22 Quick fast food restaurants were offering exclusively Halal burgers. She also claimed that Muslim communities were receiving hidden French government funds to build “increasingly ostentatious mosque-cathedrals” or ones funded by Saudi Arabia.
“In reality, it’s asking French people to increasingly submit themselves to the Muslim religion. That goes totally against the secular principles of the French republic,” she claimed, adding that the issue would be a “key theme” of the 2012 presidential elections.
Miss Le Pen, a twice-divorced mother of three, sparked outrage among the French political mainstream early in December by likening Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France, minus the “tanks and soldiers”.
Her outburst received high French backing. According to an Ifop poll, some 54 per cent of sympathisers of Mr Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party backed Miss Le Pen’s controversial comparison, while it received the support of 39 per cent of all French.
In line with other Right-wing populist parties from the Netherlands to Italy, her words have clearly struck a chord beyond the FN’s traditional electorate, with analysts predicting she could woo chunks of France’s lower-middle classes hard-hit by the economic crisis.
Dominique Reynié, a political analyst, said: “The French no longer only see the FN as an extreme-Right party but as a populist and popular party transcending the Right and Left.”
An Ipsos poll has just given her a 27 per cent approval rating. One poll suggests that up to 17 per cent of the French intend to vote for her should she run for president in 2012 – a good nine points more than her father was polling two years before he took 17 per cent of the vote in the 2002 presidential election and shocked France by reaching the second round run-off.
As a result, she claims, Mr Sarkozy is scared stiff she will knock him out of the first round in 2012 and then woo enough of his electorate to beat a Left-wing candidate.
Jean-François Copé, head of the UMP party, said: “It’s undisputable: the FN has been rising regularly in recent months. We are in danger from an electoral point of view.”
Miss Le Pen is expected to be anointed the successor to her 82-year-old father at the party congress on January 15-16. To ensure the party leadership remains in the family, she has been playing a double game – projecting a relatively moderate image to the wider electorate, while trying to prove to the 40,000 or so hard-line party faithful she has lost none of her father’s hard-Right vitriol.
She has distanced herself from her father’s notorious claims that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail of history” and that the German occupation of France was “not particularly inhuman”. Unlike him, she has no plans to ban abortions and has promised a referendum on reinstating the death penalty.
She said she meant to reach out to “French from all walks of life: Left and Right, middle classes, working classes, upper classes.”
The FN, she insisted, was neither racist nor xenophobic but simply a “patriotic” party with more in common with Britain’s Ukip and its “opposition to the totalitarian character of the EU and its desire to remove people’s sovereignty” than the BNP. She praised David Cameron’s pledge to cut net annual immigration to Britain from around 200,000 to “tens of thousands”, saying the French government had utterly failed to deal with legal or illegal immigration.
President Sarkozy has been telling visitors he has the FN under control, but given his deep unpopularity and France’s still-divided and ineffectual Left, Miss Le Pen could pose a highly dangerous threat in 2012.