PARIS — Marine Le Pen flipped out on Twitter this morning.
To prove that she had nothing in common with monsters of the so-called Islamic State, called Daesh in France, she tweeted some of the more (but not the most) grotesque images from the group’s slick snuff films: the Jordanian pilot being burned alive; another prisoner being run over by a tank; and the body of American journalist James Foley, chest down, with his severed head resting on his back.
When Foley’s parents complained about the utter lack of respect for them and their dead son, Le Pen took that tweet down—but left the others up. Le Pen said she hadn’t actually known it was Foley; it was just one of those photos you find all over Google images.
As always with the leader of the far-right National Front, a leading aspirant to the French presidency, one wonders how much of her provocation was pure calculation.
In this case, in point of fact, nobody had actually made a direct link between the National Front and Daesh, which, infamously, recruited several French citizens from Muslim backgrounds to carry out the massacre in Paris on Nov. 13, killing 130 people.
Le Pen’s tweets were addressed to Jean-Jacques Bourdin, one of France’s most aggressive and closely followed radio and TV interviewers. Only last week, Bourdin was face to face with Le Pen on camera, trying to exploit the increasingly popular meme that she’s France’s Donald Trump or vice versa. (The cover of the left-leaning daily Libération today headlines: “Trump, the Other Le Pen.”)
But in a testy exchange, Le Pen would have none of it. “I am not American,” said the insistent French nationalist.
Then, last Sunday, Le Pen’s hopes that the National Front would win two or more regional elections were dashed when the Socialists of President François Hollande and the less extreme rightists of ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains ganged up on her and her party.
So, maybe Le Pen really was in a bad mood when she heard Bourdin interviewing scholar Gilles Kepel about his just-published book, Terreur Dans L’Hexagone, “Terror in Continental France,” looking at the genesis of what Kepel calls “French jihad.”
Kepel, who has been writing about radical Islam for more than 30 years, made the point that the jihadists and the National Front recruit from the ranks of disaffected young men who feel they have no future in French society as it exists today. They may come from different ethnic and religious origins (although many in Daesh are converts to Islam), but that general sense of alienation and anger is common to the partisans of both groups.
Bourdin loved that analysis, endorsed it, embraced it, but never quite said that the organizations, Daesh and the National Front, were in any other way the same. The gist of the conversation: both attracted angry people, and it would be hard to fight either group until the French political and economic and social system are rebuilt in a way that gives people more hope.
The analysis was astute, reasonable, and wouldn’t seem terribly offensive to a casual listener. But the literate French rarely insult each other using direct abuse. A favorite game at almost every level of society here is to draw people offside, making the other person blow up, while you remain cool.
That seems to be the way Le Pen heard the conversation, as a not-so-subtle insult. But one of the things that puzzles the French establishment about her, and has endeared her to her growing number of followers, is that she doesn’t really play by the rules, even the unwritten ones. She can be very cool, but she can also play the “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” card.
This morning, instead of crafting a subtle riposte, Le Pen started, by all indications, tweeting her own tweets:
“The parallel made this morning by @JJBourdin_RMC between Daesh and the FN is an unacceptable gaffe. He must take back his filthy comments! MLP”
Then came the images of the dead and dying, one after another, less than 15 minutes later, with the same line on each: “Daesh is THAT!”
Soon the Web and the news sites were filled with “she’s gone too far” outrage, and even talk that she might be taken to court spreading Daesh propaganda.
Interestingly, Le Pen did not zero in on Kepel, which makes the whole thing look rather personal between her and Bourdin.
But Kepel was left wondering at the end of the day on Thursday, as he said to The Daily Beast, “Can somebody who tweets corpses be a candidate for the presidency of the French Republic?”
After this incident, Le Pen may find others asking that question as well.