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Jewish World Review April 29, 2002/ 17 Iyar, 5762

Don Feder

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Le Pen victory signals failure of left and right | When the French go to the polls on Sunday, it will not be to elect Jean-Marie Le Pen president of the Republic. But the abrasive nationalist's strong second-place showing last week is a sign of the times.

In a field of 16, Le Pen pulled 17 percent -- against 20 percent for incumbent Jacques Chirac (the conservative standard-bearer) and 16 percent for socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. But one on one with Le Pen, polls show Chirac winning 80 percent of the vote.

Jospin, who couldn't even make it to the runoff, reflects the growing irrelevance of the continental left. Europe is already a cradle-to-grave welfare state. What can socialists offer but more of the same?

As Samuel Huntington demonstrates in his book, The Clash of Civilizations, the age of ideology is largely over. While the 20th century was marked by political isms (capitalism, socialism), the 21st will be shaped by nationalism -- based on religion, language and shared identity.

Socialists are internationalists who appeal to the perceived interests of the proletariat across national boundaries. Workers of the world unite.

But workers aren't uniting, they're dividing. That great achievement of internationalism, the European Union, ha

s more opponents in the working class than among the business community. If the European left is irrelevant, the right is clueless. With the exception of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, it embraces the move to a borderless world. In France, it can sing "The Marseillaise," but without much conviction.

No less than the left, Europe's traditional right is at a loss as to how to respond to unprecedented levels of immigration, which its business supporters view as a cheap-labor bonanza (shades of Wall Street Journal conservatism).

Europeans see their national identities eroded by a Third World tidal wave. In the south of France, minarets rival church spires. In 1999, an estimated half a million illegal aliens infiltrated the European Union, a 1000 percent increase over 1993.

The influx has not brought harmony. Le Pen is called a fascist. Yet most of the anti-Semitism that's rocked the Republic (firebombings of synagogues, assaults on Jews) is attributed to Moslem immigrants from North Africa.

"We are all immigrants," the left insists. "The honor of France is threatened by xenophobia," the right adds. But the French and other Europeans don't see themselves, when contemplating recent arrivals from nations scarred by poverty and tribalism.

It's not about color, but heart and head. Why is it right for Africans and Asians to take pride in their identities, but wrong for a Frenchman to want his grandchildren to speak French, for Catholicism to remain the dominant religion and for national heroes to continue to be revered?

Enter Le Pen, who admittedly is somewhat of le nut case. He once described the Holocaust as a "detail" of European history. (On the other hand, in the midst of mini pogroms, Chirac claims there's no anti-Semitism in France.)

No matter, the former paratrooper taps a deep vein of popular discontent. He would send illegal immigrants home, build 200,000 jail cells to deal with immigrant crime, quit the European Union and -- as he puts it -- give the country back to the "French."

Across the continent, anti-immigrant politicians are advancing where the establishment fears to tread. In some cases, they're responsible (Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands). Sometimes, they're echoes of darker days (Jorg Haider in Austria).

When a nation's leaders abdicate their responsibility to deal seriously with one of the most pressing issue of our era, the Le Pens are presented with a blank check.

Such a default is equally pronounced here. President George Bush has turned the Republican Party into an auxiliary of The National Council of La Raza. The Democrats, who view immigrants (the poorer and more ignorant, the better) as their natural constituency, love it.

Still, poll after poll shows substantial majorities deeply troubled by the alien-ation of America. Will it take the rise of an American Le Pen to wake up Washington to our legitimate concerns? After Sept. 11, don't count on Americans to be patient forever.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate