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French Debate Calls to Ban National Front from Elections

September 17, 1996
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France’s political establishment has been up in arms over how to deal with the leader of the extreme-right National Front after he openly espoused racial inequality.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, who once dismissed the Nazi gas chambers as “a mere detail in the history of World War II,” caused an uproar after he said in a radio interview last week, “To say that the races are unequal is a fact, an unremarkable statement.”

He cited as an example the “obvious difference between white and black athletes” during the Olympic Games.

Le Pen, who has repeatedly denied that he is racist or anti-Semitic, won 15 percent of the vote in last year’s French presidential election.

Henri Hajdenberg, president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular French Jewish groups, said Le Pen’s “ideology recalls that of the Nazis. We haven’t heard this type of language in Europe since 1945.

“Not only is Jean-Marie Le Pen an anti-Semite who has been convicted several times by French courts, but he is also a racist.”

Some political leaders responded to Le Pen’s latest remarks by calling for his anti-immigrant party to be banned; others demanded he be taken to court for inciting racial hatred.

“I will not be intimidated by the demonstrations or the threats of a thought police,” Le Pen said in response to the outcry.

Justice Minister Jacques Toubon rejected calls to ban the Front as unconstitutional, but considered taking legal action against its 68-year-old leader.

But Toubon later changed his mind after the public prosecutor said Le Pen’s remarks were too vague to be punished by existing legislation.

“If legal action was taken against Mr. Le Pen, it would be futile,” Toubon told the daily newspaper Liberation.

Inciting racial hatred is a crime in France punishable by up to one year in prison, a $60,000 fine and a five-year ban on holding public office.

Toubon has vowed to stiffen France’s hate laws to punish “indirect provocation, indirect calls for racist acts, hatred, violence or discrimination based on race” and said he would try to present a draft bill to Parliament when its autumn session opens in October.

He also wants to toughen sanctions for racist crimes and speed up trials for their perpetrators.

France, along with Germany and Belgium, now has some of the most stringent laws against espousing racial hatred in the 15-nation European Union, which has attempted, but so far failed, to develop a unified legislative stance.

A poll published in the thick of the outcry showed that 75 percent of French voters believe that the National Front is racist, while 51 percent said they approved of some of its views.

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