After two years of abysmal popularity ratings, French President François Hollande's credibility bounced back in the wake of the Paris terror attacks that left 17 dead.
Meanwhile, France's far-right Front National party (FN) has failed to show a united front or communicate a cogent position on the January shootings. The party landed in hot water last week when one of its representatives uploaded a video titled "France is at war" to YouTube.
Filmed by Aymeric Chauprade, a member of the European Parliament in Brussels and the FN's diplomatic advisor, the video equates "global Islam" to the rise of National Socialism in 1930s Germany.
Chauprade also alluded to "a fifth column" of Islamist militants operating on French soil who might "at any moment turn against us," because for them "allegiance to Islam is more important than allegiance to France."
The phrase "fifth column" is used to describe a faction of traitors who seek to undermine the country from within.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the FN, removed Chauprade from his post as the head of the party's delegation at the European Parliament on Thursday. Earlier in the week Le Pen fired Chauprade from his advisory post over his comments.
Chauprade's video was uploaded on January 15 without party approval, and Le Pen sent out a statement to FN officials, urging them not to relay the video for "legal reasons."
But many party members appear to have defied the order. Le Pen's niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen ignored her aunt's request and reposted the video on her Twitter account on Tuesday. Marine's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the FN and remains the party's honorary president, also spoke out in support of Chauprade.
Meanwhile, the disgraced former advisor has been multiplying media appearances over the past few days to clarify his comments. Speaking to AFP, he claimed his message had been misunderstood and that he had not made "discriminatory remarks against a whole community."
Interviewed on Wednesday on iTélé, Chauprade maintained that "his observations were close to those of Marine Le Pen."
But back in October, French radio Europe 1 had already hinted at a schism within the party. Marine Le Pen has maintained that Islam is "compatible with the Republic," since a 2011 interview in French Catholic daily La Croix, while Chauprade told the magazine Causeur that "Islam cannot be assimilated (into French society)."
The Myth of the "Fifth Column"
According to Chauprade's controversial analysis, France is besieged by Islamist extremists, who have infiltrated the ranks of ordinary French civilians. "Between 900,000 and 1.5 million Muslims," he said, "are convinced that Sharia law — Islamic law — will eventually replace French law."
But statistics published in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack make Chauprade's estimate seem fanciful at best. Unveiling France's new anti-terror measures on Wednesday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced the tighter monitoring of some 3,000 individuals — a far cry from Chauprade's million and a half.
The term "fifth column" was coined in 1936 by General Emilio Mola, a nationalist commander in the Spanish civil war. As Franco's army converged on the republican stronghold of Madrid in four "columns," or battalions, Mola famously said that, "a fifth column was already on site," referring to Franco sympathizers who had already infiltrated the city.
The concept of the fifth column has popped up several times throughout history, including during World War II, when the French army's swift defeat in June 1940 led to suggestions of a clandestine faction working with the Germans.
The expression has already been stirred up controversy once this year, when British politician Nigel Farage, leader of the right-wing Eurosceptic UKIP party told Fox News that several European countries were being undermined by "a fifth column." Farage said: "(We now have people) mercifully few in number, but people who are out to destroy our whole civilization and our way of life."
Chauprade, the Party Rebel
Wallerand de Saint-Just, FN treasurer and member of the party's political bureau, told VICE News that within the party there are certain "guiding principles that must be followed by all."
Saint-Just described Chauprade as "a newcomer," who had "strayed from the balanced position, which some seem to find so hard to maintain."
Conceding that the term "fifth column" was "ambiguous," Saint-Just went on to say that, "the National Front has always said it would combat radical Islam and sectarianism, but never Islam."
"What the FN has always maintained is that (France's) immigration policy has relegated immigrants to the housing projects. These projects have fostered delinquency, and now terrorism."
He denied any schism within the party, and downplayed Jean-Marie Le Pen's support of Chauprade. "Jean-Marie Le Pen is today the FN's honorary president, and has greater freedom over what he says."
On Thursday, Louis Alliot, the FN vice president spoke on Radio France Info. Reacting to the last days turmoil, he acknowledged internal debates but stressed that there is "only one path in the Front National, Marine Le Pen's path."
The National Front Tries to Unite
For Professor Pascal Perrineau, who teaches at the Paris University of Political Science, the recent dispute revives "the age-old tension between Marine Le Pen, whose strategy is to make the FN more respectable, and those threatening her (agenda)."
Perrineau told VICE News that Marine Le Pen, who is largely credited with "mainstreaming" the French far-right, will have to "distance herself from the conspiracy theorists" in order to deliver on her vision for the party.
According to Perrineau, the recent friction within the FN is not necessarily symptomatic of impending division. "These are just tensions within the party," he said. "These tensions have been around for a while, ever since the Manif Pour Tous events (the 2014 protests against same-sex marriage)."
Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray
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