Are the French getting their Tea Party on? That's what an outsider looking at the country's first-round presidential voting results might have been led to believe. But, as with many things French, the reality is très compliquée.
The weekend vote knocked out all but the two candidates long expected to square off in the May 6 final: Socialist Francois Hollande (28.6 percent) and incumbent center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy (27.2 percent). This isn't the story, though. The most striking news is the 17.9 percent score by Marine Le Pen's National Front party. That's even better than her father Jean-Marie's best showing of 16.9 percent when he shockingly knocked out the Socialist candidate in the first round of the 2002 race to face incumbent President Jacques Chirac in the final.
What's behind Le Pen's surprising showing? What sentiment is she capturing, exactly? Who are her supporters?
Let's widen the picture a bit to get a better understanding.
Last week, I debated on Russian television the topic of extremism in Europe within the context of the Anders Breivik case currently being adjudicated in Norway. Last summer, Breivik killed dozens of people at a youth camp linked to Norway's left-leaning Labor Party, which he holds responsible for pro-Muslim immigration policies. One of my debate opponents argued that Breivik represents some kind of worrisome Western trend -- from the rising popularity of "far-right" parties in Europe to the American Tea Party movement.
Aside from the fact that Breivik never had the Tea Party on speed dial, I pointed out that we shouldn't confuse legitimate and vigorous criticism of current political initiatives with the violent acts of a single behavioral outlier.
If one were to make the same kind of sweeping judgment about violent non-Western fanatics, despite the prevalence of a clear perpetrator profile pattern, that person would be chastised and admonished, if not censored or sued. Yet some are all too willing to portray a person or group with a thoughtful right-wing view as being on the verge of snapping -- usually a means of discrediting a rational argument, even before its merits can be thoroughly assessed.