A Paris town’s brash shift to the far right String of ji­hadist at­tacks chang­ing mind­sets

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Em­i­lie Fougerolles voted for the far left in 2012 and is “trou­bled by the racism” of France’s farright Na­tional Front, but nev­er­the­less she is se­ri­ously think­ing of vot­ing for its pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Marine Le Pen next year.

The 34-year-old sales clerk lives in the Paris dor­mi­tory town of Mantes-laVille, one of 10 cities the Na­tional Front (FN) seized con­trol of dur­ing mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions in 2014.

Since then, res­i­dents are re­lieved that “noth­ing has changed in our daily lives,” Fougerolles said in the low-rise town some 50 kilo­me­ters west of the French cap­i­tal. The string of ji­hadist at­tacks that have claimed 238 lives in France since Jan­uary 2015 have con­trib­uted to the shift in the town of around 20,000 in­hab­i­tants.

“We live in per­ma­nent fear,” said Fougerolles, who was es­pe­cially shaken by the ji­hadist mur­der in June this year of a po­lice of­fi­cer and his com­pan­ion in Mag­nanville, just a few kilo­me­ters away. One of her four daugh­ters was tak­ing a judo class only 200 me­ters away from the scene of the at­tack at the time. That was when Fougerolles be­gan tak­ing an in­ter­est in Le Pen. “She has good ideas when it comes to ter­ror­ism,” Fougerolles said. “If her name weren’t Le Pen I would have no doubts at all about vot­ing for her.” The 48-year-old FN leader is the youngest daugh­ter of the fiery and openly xeno­pho­bic Jean-Marie Le Pen, who led the party for nearly 40 years.

Since suc­ceed­ing him in 2011 she has worked to shed the party’s racist and anti-Semitic im­age while hop­ing to cap­i­talise on eco­nomic gloom and con­cern about Europe’s big­gest mi­grant crisis since World War II. As part of this strat­egy, she has re­port­edly in­structed FN may­ors not to make waves in their cities. Cyril Nauth, a 35-year-old his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy teacher and the first FN mayor in the Paris re­gion, failed to see through on his cam­paign prom­ises to block a new mosque in Man­tesla-Ville, though he has cut sub­si­dies to civic groups.

Le Pen has also seized on the fears gen­er­ated by the at­tacks with prom­ises of boost­ing se­cu­rity and coun­ter­ing per­ceived Islamic in­roads into French so­ci­ety. The so-called “dede­mon­is­ing” strat­egy has trans­lated into votes, and the party won 28 per­cent in the first round of last year’s re­gional elec­tions, though it was de­feated in the run-off when the main­stream par­ties worked to­gether to block it.

Now, thanks partly to deep dis­ar­ray on the left, voter sur­veys pre­dict that Le Pen will come in se­cond or even first in the first round of the pres­i­den­tial vote in April, qual­i­fy­ing her for the May run-off. She is then tipped to lose, most likely to the newly cho­sen rightwing can­di­date Fran­cois Fil­lon. But after the shock elec­tion of Don­ald Trump in the United States, no-one is writ­ing off Le Pen’s chances.

‘I won’t hide it’

Franck Party, a 49-year-old su­per­mar­ket man­ager, said he would “never” have voted for Jean-Marie Le Pen be­cause he is “too over the top,” but he has voted FN since Marine took over. “Her po­si­tions on de­fend­ing France’s iden­tity res­onate with me,” he said, adding that he op­poses “mass im­mi­gra­tion” and the “dic­ta­tor­ship of Brus­sels”.

Like Party, many res­i­dents of Mantes-la-Ville, which is slightly poorer than the na­tional av­er­age, make no bones about vot­ing FN. “I won’t hide it,” said Alain Bau­douin, a 56-year-old for­mer car­worker who has taken early re­tire­ment, slam­ming “th­ese im­mi­grants who have ev­ery­thing”. A for­mer ma­son who gave his name only as Fred­eric agreed, say­ing he was sacked “be­cause of Turk­ish and Pol­ish work­ers”, adding: “Vive the FN”.

Pa­tri­cia, a 58-year-old woman who works at Mantes-la-Ville’s town hall, said she did not re­gret vot­ing FN in the 2014 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, and said she would vote for Le Pen in 2017. Like Fougerolles, she has seen lit­tle change in the city. “Maybe the streets are cleaner?” she said, be­fore adding that for her the main thing is: “We need to re­vi­tal­ize France!” A woman in her 70s who de­clined to give her name said she voted for the FN mayor be­cause she was “fed up of state hand­outs and im­mi­grants.” But when it comes to the pres­i­dency, she said she pre­ferred Fil­lon. Be­ing mayor is “after all not the same as run­ning a coun­try,” she said. —AFP

MANTES-LA-VILLE: This file photo taken on March 31, 2014 shows Cyril Nauth, newly elected mayor of Mantes-la-Ville for the French far-right Front Na­tional (FN) party, pos­ing in front of the city hall of Mantes-la-Ville. —AFP

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