The European Parliament — it’s government-from-afar, a bureaucratic nightmare — its chamber is a bastion of European left-of-centre thinking, a crucible of progressivism, with national sovereignty burning at its core.
And so, it’s no surprise that on Thursday MEPs voted to remove Marine Le Pen’s parliamentary immunity from prosecution, allowing French prosecutors to pursue legal action against the National Front leader for posting three graphic pictures of ISIS violence on Twitter in December 2015 — the uncensored images included the beheading of American journalist James Foley and the execution-by-fire of shot-down Jordanian pilot Muath al Kasasbeh.
But why would Le Pen tweet such images? And what about the revocation of her parliamentary immunity — surely, it isn’t a move to restrict Islamic extremist propaganda in the European Parliament, a place where there likely isn’t any?
Well, herein lies the context to her tweets and the answer to those questions — in December 2015, Le Pen found herself in a spat with a journalist, Jean-Jacques Bourdin. Bourdin had compared Le Pen’s National Front to ISIS, known by the acronym Daesh. This was an absurd assertion from Bourdin, which led Le Pen to respond in kind, tweeting “Daesh is THIS!”
Now, Le Pen went on to delete the tweet that contained a photo of James Foley after criticism from his family — at the time Le Pen said, “I did not know it was a photo of James Foley, and when I learned that his parents demanded that I take down this photo, I did, obviously.”
It’s clear that Le Pen’s intent was not to antagonize Mr. Foley’s family — her acceptance of their distress and distaste at the image’s distribution, although widely available elsewhere online, led Le Pen to, respectfully, delete the tweet. The right-wing firebrand’s intent was, rather, to make a point, to shine light on the reality of ISIS’s crimes, to showcase the terror group’s brutality and savagery.
Vividly made, her point was successfully put across — the National Front, for all its vulnerabilities, is not ISIS.
“I do not regret the publication of these photos,” Le Pen said at the time, according to the New York Times. “I think it drew attention to the appalling outrage of comparing Daesh and the National Front.”
It is true, though, that in France, the maximum penalty for distributing violent images is three years in prison and a fine of up to €75,000.
It is also true, however, that this vote by the European Parliament was triggered by a request from the prosecutor of Nanterre in western Paris.
Le Pen, who has consistently led first-round polls, dismissed the efforts to remove her immunity as “part of the system that wants to stop the French people’s candidate that I am.”
The first round of the French presidential election will be held on April 23, 2017.
Follow Alex on Twitter at @RealAlexanderJ