PARIS - The French have had two months to sort out the lessons of last fall's riots in predominately Muslim neighborhoods. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin says the rioting was caused by racial bias, lack of business opportunity and insufficient education for immigrant children. He vows tax breaks for business, better education for immigrant children and tougher enforcement of anti-bias laws. For this conclusion, the French media, which is more left wing than the American press, praised him.
The founder and leader of France's Front National (FN) party, 77-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen, has reached the opposite conclusion, as might be expected of a man who has warned for decades about the dangers of unrestrained immigration.
Le Pen claims that the French media marginalized him, even during the riots, though FN has made immigration the center of its platform. During a recent interview with me at his home, Le Pen said, "The politically correct forbids any link be established between immigration and the riots. Everybody knows it, but you can't say it."
To Le Pen, the facts are indisputable. The migration of Muslims to France since the 1950s from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal is larger than any other influx in France's history. New immigrants are young and have a higher birth rate than the French. There are about 200,000 abortions a year in France and the government has begun offering to pay French women to have more babies. At current rates, the Muslim population in France will grow from its current 8 percent - that's about 5 million of France's 60 million people - to a majority in 25 years. French culture, possibly French secularism and liberty, cannot be sustained in the face of such demographic facts.
I asked Le Pen what he would do should he become president in next year's election. He told me he would immediately stop all immigration and "change the law of nationality" so that being born in France does not automatically make one a French citizen. He also would make it more difficult for an immigrant to bring all of his or her relatives to France, as is now allowed.
Le Pen, who has been called a fascist, racist, xenophobe and other things that cannot be printed here, says, "We are currently subsidizing everybody, including the illegals. It is costing us the equivalent of $500 billion annually."
Le Pen fears that not only France, "but all of Europe will be submerged by all these people if nothing is done. There are no jobs for them and most won't work, preferring a government check. Many live by dealing in drugs, or stealing. They have created their own ghettos. We have places where there are no schools, because they have set them afire and the police and firemen are attacked when they go there. Civilization is slowly evaporating from this country."
Le Pen denies he is any of the things his detractors call him, but he protests what he calls the censorship of his views by the French media. He tells me the French media spend more time talking about him than allowing him to speak for himself. During the rioting last fall, he says 50 foreign journalists interviewed him, but no French reporters. As a result, he maintains, most French people know little of his views and he is dismissed as a fringe character.
Despite the odds, Le Pen made it to the second round of voting in the 2002 presidential election and is likely to do so again in the 2007 race. But, he says, all of the parties, including the communists, quickly united against him last time and he expects a similar strategy next year. A poll in Paris Match found support for Le Pen increased 5 percent after the riots. He hopes to increase those numbers, if he can be heard.
Le Pen has been fighting for his issues since first being elected to office in 1956. Getting elected president of France is his biggest battle (if you don't count the Indo-China and Algerian wars in which he fought).
Asked his chances next year, he told me, "the next election is up to God," then quickly added, "or more riots."
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