Letter from France — From the May 2016 issue

Front Runner

Marine Le Pen’s campaign to make France great again

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Most of the Paris attacks took place in the tenth and eleventh arrondissements, a former industrial area northeast of the Marais. The neighborhood is not bourgeois Paris. Rue du Faubourg du Temple, a market street near the restaurants that were struck by the assailants, is filled with butcher shops, Chinese on one end and halal on the other, and cheap clothing stores. Almost every corner has a sparsely furnished café where clusters of North African men — never women — loiter. I lived in the neighborhood for a year in 2009, and I liked it precisely because it was one of the least Parisian parts of Paris. The facades of the apartment blocks are less ornate than those in the rest of the city, whiter in color, and when the sun sets at the right angle you get the impression of being in Marseille, or even Tunis.

A crop of young professionals has moved to the neighborhood over the past decade, and in recent years it has become the part of the city where you’re most likely to see Muslim and non-Muslim Parisians sitting next to each other at a concert or a restaurant. After the attacks, an American friend who lives nearby told me that some of the neighborhood’s residents had murmured on social media that their way of life had specifically been targeted. Indeed, the Islamic State had spoken explicitly about its intentions to eliminate the “gray zone” inhabited by Muslims who have chosen to live among infidels.

Tents and makeshift shelters in the Jungle, near Calais, France, October 2, 2015 © Pascal Rossignol/Reuters.

Tents and makeshift shelters in the Jungle, near Calais, France, October 2, 2015 © Pascal Rossignol/Reuters.

When I visited my old neighborhood a week after the attacks, I followed a current of grief that ran beneath the streets, an unseen reservoir that bubbled up into a mound of cut flowers and votive candles at each restaurant where a shooting had taken place. These impromptu shrines were encircled by perpetual crowds, in which it was always possible to find someone shuddering with sobs.

In January of last year, after the Charlie Hebdo killings, Marine Le Pen had been excluded from a day of national unity that was organized as a tribute. Three days after we met in Strasbourg, however, she was among a select group of dignitaries invited to attend a service for the survivors and the families of the victims of the November attacks. At the ceremony, which was held at the Hôtel des Invalides, the seventeenth-century military complex that houses the tomb of Napoleon I, Hollande stood and faced the orchestra of the Republican Guard while it performed the “Marseillaise.” Commentators on TV insisted that this was a display of patriotism, not nationalism, and if they found the distinction hard to articulate, they were nevertheless certain of its importance. In a strange ritual, Hollande sat alone in front of the gallery of politicians, as though to dramatize that the responsibility for what had happened, and for whatever would come next, fell solely on him. He looked as though he were trying not to weep as the name and age of each of the victims, almost all of whom were in their twenties or thirties, were read aloud.

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lives in Brooklyn. Her most recent article for Harper’s Magazine, “The Counterparty,” was published in December 2015.

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