Still facing an uphill battle in the coming elections, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen continued to make news this week with a trip to Lebanon where she sought to shore up her foreign-policy bona fides. After meeting with her first head of state and other influential figures, Le Pen was apparently informed that a scheduled meeting with the Grand Mufti would require her to don some sort of scarf or other head covering in accordance with Muslim traditions. True to form, Le Pen’s response was rather brief, amounting to little more than, “send him my best.” (Reuters)
Marine Le Pen, presidential candidate for France’s far-right National Front party, canceled a meeting on Tuesday with Lebanon’s Grand Mufti after refusing to wear a headscarf for the encounter.
“You can pass on my respects to the Grand Mufti, but I will not cover myself up,” Le Pen told reporters.
The press office for the Grand Mufti said that Le Pen’s aides had been informed beforehand of their requirement for her to wear head covering for the meeting.
Le Pen has been visiting Lebanon as she seeks to bolster her presidential credentials.
How much of this was actual indignation as compared to a high visibility moment in a larger political game? The potential damage to French relations with Lebanon is obviously minimal, but Le Pen must be reveling in the opportunity which was dropped at her doorstep. Much of her candidacy thus far has been based not only on opposition to the European Union, but preaching the dangers of radical Islam to both the security of France and their deep, historical cultural fabric.
The obvious implication is that Le Pen’s opponents would be soft on Islamic extremism whereas Le Pen has the backbone to stand against the rising tide. Refusing to don a headscarf might be seen as a small gesture, but still a meaningful one for her base as well as those who share her concerns about an influx of foreign and potentially dangerous influences.
Opposition to traditional Muslim garb isn’t exactly a new subject in France either. Remember the great burkini ban flap of 2016? Say what you will about the legality of the proposal and the various implications for freedom of both religion and speech, but that idea gained a lot of traction among French citizens. And we’re not just talking about the folks who might be naturally inclined to support Le Pen’s party. Mayors in a variety of towns continued to attempt to enforce the ban even after a court ordered an end to it.
Admittedly, a headscarf being worn in a foreign, majority Muslim nation isn’t an exact parallel to the swimwear question referenced above, but that experience among French voters could definitely create some crossover appeal. Marine Le Pen still remains a longshot prospect for eventual victory, but with each new headline she generates I grow more convinced that she is a savvy political actor.
In related news, Iran told a female American chess champion that she would have to wear a hijab to compete and they were similarly told to go pack sand. (If you’ll pardon the expression.)