Europe’s far-right parties, who often complain that the mainstream media ignores them, found themselves, and their issues, in the spotlight following Wednesday’s attack on the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Prominent right-wing leaders, from Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National, to members of Italy’s anti-immigrant Lega Nord, to Nigel Farage of Britain’s U.K. Independence Party, were in demand as commentators and pundits after the shooting, apparently carried out by Islamic militants, left 12 dead.
Le Pen, whose party has been described as Islamophobic and anti-immigrant, went on national network France 2 to denounce the Paris attack as “a terrorist act committed in the name of radical Islamism.” She also used the interview to call for a referendum to reintroduce the death penalty, which has been outlawed in France since 1981.
— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) January 8, 2015
Le Pen’s Front National is on the upswing. The party was the big winner of last year’s European elections in France, and a poll of potential voters held in September by Ifop for Le Figaro newspaper saw Le Pen leading current French president Francois Hollande. Le Pen has criticized Hollande in the past for underestimating the threat from homegrown Islamic terrorists. Many pundits believe outrage over the Paris attacks will push more voters toward Le Pen and the Front National ahead of next year’s French presidential election.
A presidential run-off between Le Pen and a fictional Islamic candidate is the plot of Submission, the new novel from literary enfant terrible Michel Houellebecq, which was released on the day of the attacks and was the No. 1 best-seller on Amazon in France on Thursday. In the novel, the Muslim president is elected and introduces Sharia law in France. The latest issue of Charlie Hebdo had a caricature of Houellebecq on the cover, poking fun at France’s phobias around Islam.
Across the channel, Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), told Britain’s Channel 4 that the Paris attacks were the “result of having a fifth column living within these countries. We have people living in these countries, holding our passports, that hate us. It does make one question the whole gross attempt at encouraged division that we’ve had within our societies for the past few decades in the name of multiculturalism.”
UKIP, which has been sharply critical of immigration, has also been gaining in the polls and was the top party in Britain in last year’s European Parliamentary elections.
In Italy, the anti-immigration party Lega Nord pointed to the Paris attacks as another reason to stop Operation Mare Nostrum, Italy’s rescue efforts aimed at helping illegal African migrants who get stranded on their often treacherous journey to reach Europe.
“After Sept. 11 and the killing in Paris, we cannot allow ourselves even a doubt in Italy that extremists could arrive to bring on the next attack. If we don’t send all the illegals that are arriving in Italy back to their countries, we risk to become the crossroads of terrorism,” said Marco Marcolin, a Lega Nord parliamentary member. The party went even further, saying that in reaction to the Paris attack, Italy’s parliament should introduce a new law blocking the building of any new mosques or Islamic centers in the country.
In Germany, Pegida, a new anti-Islamic movement that has been gaining support via weekly marches in the East German city of Dresden, said Monday’s rally would be “for the victims of terror in Paris.”
But even after the attacks, the group did not break its policy of refusing to talk to Germany’s mainstream media. Pegida’s Facebook page, however, spoke volumes. The group, whose name is the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West, recorded nearly 30,000 new “likes” this week, with support spiking after news of the Paris attacks broke.
Rhonda Richford in Paris, Alex Ritman in London and Ariston Anderson in Rome contributed to this report.