As reported by Reuters, right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen, one of the leading candidates in that country’s upcoming presidential election, made waves on Tuesday for bowing out of a scheduled meeting with Lebanon’s Grand Mufti (the chief cleric for Sunni Muslims) Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, because she did not want to wear a headscarf for the occasion.
The reason for Le Pen’s visit to Lebanon is believed to be twofold: To help the candidate gain some gravitas in the area of foreign policy, as well as help her perhaps win over some Franco-Lebanese voters - the Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990 saw close to a million people flee that country, and many went to France and gained citizenship.
In explaining to reporters her refusal to wear the headscarf, Le Pen referenced a previous visit to the Middle East, saying, “I met the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar (in Cairo, Egypt). The highest Sunni authority didn't have this requirement, but it doesn't matter.”
“You can pass on my respects to the Grand Mufti, but I will not cover myself up,” she said.
The Sheikh’s press office reportedly told Le Pen’s aides beforehand that wearing the headscarf would be a requirement of the meeting, so they were, as they put it, “surprised by her refusal.”
In other words, Le Pen may have been doing a little showboating for the cameras in order to fortify her credentials with the base that has propelled her close to the top of France’s list of presidential candidates.
Still, it is difficult to see Le Pen as anything less than sincere on the subject of battling Muslim influence in her home country. The politician has been outspoken on the subject for years, and seeks to expand France’s controversial headscarf ban, now limited to those who work in the public sector as well as to high school students, so that it applies in all public places.
The first round of France’s presidential election takes place on April 23.
By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large