A demonstration against French Front National leader Marine Le Pen will take place outside the Oxford Union, Frewin Court at 5pm tomorrow. Come and say “va te faire foutre” to fascists with us, argues Kate Bradley
Tomorrow (Thursday 5th February), Marine Le Pen is coming to the Oxford Union, and a demonstration to protest her politics and her invitation has been called by Oxford rs21, NUS Black Students Campaign, Stand Up to UKIP and the London Black Revs.
The Oxford Union has a proud history of inviting fascists and racists to speak at their events – and Marine Le Pen is both. Le Pen leads a party which even Nigel Farage has accused of “anti-Semitism and general prejudice”; as leader of the French Front National, she continues in the footsteps of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, convicted multiple times of Holocaust denial and inciting racial hatred before he handed over to Marine in 2011.
Marine Le Pen has criticised her father over his explicit racism, but this does not signal a departure from his ideology. In a world of slick publicity politics, Marine Le Pen offers the French people a sanitised fascism which appears to uphold liberal tenets (such as the championing of secularism against what she sees as the encroachment of Islam) but calls for the same policies as its fascist forebears: a drastic reduction in immigration and a suppression of immigrants’ and foreigners’ rights; the tightening of national security; increased spending on prisons and domestic surveillance, and what France24 describes as “aggressive promotion of the French language” across the world.
The Oxford Union is not affiliated to or funded by Oxford University, but to the international community, the name ‘Oxford’ links the two. The Union feeds off this mistake, maintaining its credibility and prestige through association to the University, alongside absurd ceremonies, students’ money and incessant self-promotion. In reality, the Union is run by a handful of self-important students and administrators, but invitees don’t know that, and neither do most people outside Oxford. When people are invited to speak, it affords them respect and legitimacy; from then on, it can be used as a credential, a bolster for their public persona. Why would we want to offer Marine Le Pen that support?
This is not about ‘free speech’. Curious bystanders can listen to her speeches online or read articles about her in countless newspapers and magazines. Giving Le Pen a platform to speak at a famous institution is not simply an espousal of free speech: it is giving her ideas a privileged place in people’s attentions, and providing her supporters with an encouraging sense of pride and legitimation which can only lead to harm.
When Marine Le Pen and members of her party speak their vitriol, it causes real, tangible harm to people. Most of the time, this not just a consequence of her speeches, but an aim. Le Pen’s call for supporters to “go to fundamentalist mosques” could easily be interpreted by Islamophobes as incitement to violence, as we have been seeing against mosques in recent months. If Marine Le Pen and her party members are allowed to broadcast from the heights of the ivory tower, people will get hurt, psychologically and physically.
This sounds reductive, but that’s because it’s very straight-forward: when anti-Semitic, racist and authoritarian leaders are elected, anti-Semitism, racism and authoritarianism follow. Marine Le Pen and other members of the Front National are dangerously close to being elected; many already have been. Fascism is a very real threat all across Europe in 2015, and the Oxford Union’s invitation will only boost the confidence of neo-Nazis everywhere.
Tomorrow’s protest will show that, whilst the Oxford Union might respect racist, anti-Semitic demagogues, the majority of people don’t. The media coverage our protest receives in France could have an effect on Le Pen’s credibility, and will show solidarity with France’s Jews, Muslims, people of colour, immigrants and the queer community. The Union should know that every fascist they invite will incur a “security charge”, and the bigger the protest, the greater that cost will be.