We are all familiar with the story of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Bible warns, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15). One of Aesop’s fables tell the tale of shepherds who mistakenly trust wolves. It is a natural human trait to want to believe in a leader who claims to be able to solve our problems. As the final phase of the French election rapidly approaches, filmmaker Luc Besson (Taken, La Femme Nikita) warns his compatriots in a public letter, entitled The Great Illusion, that they are being scammed.
“We are the scammed. Sentimental folks, yearning for ideals, strung along by fine words, tired of believing, revolted by unkept promises. Weakened, disillusioned, an easy prey, like a wounded animal alone in the jungle. Blinded by our tears, we are the perfect target for hawkers selling flowers at church doors or handkerchiefs at cemetery gates. Our anxiety exposes us, makes us vulnerable. We’ll listen to anything that brings a moment’s relief. It’s the best possible time to abuse our confidence, and it’s the con artists’ cue to make their entrance.” He identifies the con artists: Marine Le Pen and the Le Pin family that has a “family business trading in fascism, racism and xenophobia” and their party, the National Front (FN), which has “a nice little business, whose upper echelons comprise the elite of French fascism… [and which] proposes reestablishing hard borders and deporting foreigners.”
According to the FN “the foreigners are to blame” for France’s problems. I attended an exhibition at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam about Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, when he ran the FN. I was chilled by the party’s position and policies, and understood that “foreigners” is also a code word for all those who can’t trace their ancestors back centuries to white French Catholics.
Of course, Besson is right when he says, “It’s easy to lay the blame for everything on ‘others.’” As history has taught us, demonizing “others” is the first step that occurs in a genocide. “When and where in history has turning in on oneself had positive results?” he asks. “Never. Withdrawal brings isolation. Isolation leads to totalitarianism. Totalitarianism spawns fascism. Fascism results in war.”
I highly recommend taking a few moments to read Besson’s eloquent letter. He pulls back the curtain to reveal the image re-branding of Le Pen and her acting attempt to steal the scene and obtain top billing. Bresson concludes with a reminder: “The world is watching. History is waiting.”
What path will French history take next week?
Drawing: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Francis Barlow (1687)