Making Marine Le Pen into a martyr of free speech
The threatened prosecution of Le Pen for stating an opinion is deeply undemocratic.
One of the more liberal aspects of the European Parliament is that it offers its members protection from prosecution for opinions expressed in the course of their duties. But it has now revoked this protection for the French National Front leader Marine Le Pen, paving the way for her prosecution in France on charges of ‘incitement to racial hatred’.
Le Pen’s comments – comparing Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation – were made during the National Front’s internal leadership campaign in 2010. She lamented that there were ‘more and more veils’ and ‘more and more burqas’, and ‘after that came prayers in the streets… I’m sorry, but some people are very fond of talking about the Second World War and about the occupation, so let’s talk about occupation, because that is what is happening here.’
So now, thanks to the European Parliament’s closed-session ‘judicial committee’, the head of a leading political party faces a year in prison and a hefty fine, for comments made at an internal party meeting. So much for party democracy and free debate.
This is even more remarkable given that, in 2011, France banned both the veil and praying in the streets. It appears, then, that repressive laws targeting Muslims are fine, so long as politicians are not so uncouth as to justify them to the public.
One senses that Le Pen is relishing the prosecution, however, since it allows her to play the role of persecuted minority ‘dissident’ punished only for saying ‘what French people really think’. The event provides the National Front with that anti-elitist frisson which has always been key to its appeal.
The French authorities’ indictment of Le Pen is a gross interference in the process of democratic debate, giving her due cause to complain of being targeted by illiberal forces and thus potentially increasing the attraction of her party.
Josie Appleton is convenor of the Manifesto Club.