France’s far-right National Front party looked set to use the Paris attack on a satirical magazine to further its anti-immigrant agenda, with one member suggesting that Islam has a “tendency to create fanatics.”
The comment comes as political analysts and Muslim community leaders predict that right-wing politicians will use the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly that has lampooned Islam and other religions, to stoke popular fears against French Muslims.
“Islam is a difficult religion, because it confuses civil and religious law. It doesn’t recognize the French principle of secular government,” Wallerand de Saint-Just, the National Front’s national treasurer told Al Jazeera before a press conference by the party’s leader, Marine Le Pen.
Marine Le Pen has in recent years attempted to downplay the xenophobic rants of her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front and has repeatedly denied the Holocaust. But like her father, she has maintained a tough stance on immigration and what she has called the creeping influence of Islam in the French state.
In April 2014, her party saw unprecedented gains in municipal elections, with National Front candidates elected in 11 cities.
“Islam has a tendency to create fanatics more than any other religion. The facts on the ground prove this,” de Saint-Just said. He traveled to the site of the massacre in central Paris hours after the attack, he said, and witnesses told him “the attackers spoke perfect French like French citizens.”
“Therefore, we know it was facilitated by the very present, real danger of terrorists in France.” The fact that the attackers may have had French citizenship means “it’s very difficult to get these people. If these people have French nationality, we can arrest them, but we can’t expel them. They get out and conduct another attack. This is a dangerous cycle of terrorism.”
De Saint-Just called for maximum penalties for the perpetrators of Wednesday’s attack.
The Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR), which advocates for the interests of French people of color, including those from France’s predominantly Muslim former colonies in Africa and elsewhere, condemned Wednesday’s attack and comments like de Saint-Just’s.
“We denounce the attack and the instrumentalization of the attack” by “the jackals that want to use this incident to start a witch hunt against Muslims,” said Youssef Boussoumah, a PIR organizer and Muslim community leader.
He said the incident was an attack on French Muslims as well as French non-Muslims. “This enables people who attack Muslims,” he said.
Analysts appeared to agree with Boussoumah that, given mounting Islamophobia and xenophobia, the French Muslim community could face a barrage of nationalist conservatives aiming to stoke animosity.
Alain Gresh, the editor of French monthly newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique and a noted commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, told Al Jazeera that Wednesday’s attack occurred in a “climate of Islamophobia very present in France,” adding that the incident “can strengthen Islamophobia and make people see all Muslims as the same — as a threat to our civilization and values.”
That fits squarely into the far-right political platform, he said. “The National Front is changing its general discourse, which was against Jews, [to one] in favor of Jews and Israel and against Muslims,” he said.
Olivier Roy, a professor at the European University Institute in Florence focusing on security issues and Islamist armed groups, echoed Gresh and Boussoumah.
Wednesday’s attack “reinforces the extreme right,” Roy said. Some people are calling to ban Islam in France — but not the National Front, which will avoid what are considered incendiary comments, he said, “because they have a shot at the government.”