Algiers has protested formally to Paris about a Front National election poster which shows France draped in the Algerian flag, with the menacing silhouettes of minarets and the slogan Non à l'Islamisme. Three 'anti-racism' groups have issued legal complaints, while one Kahled Lasbeur, lawyer for the Movement against Racism, blustered that there would be "riots, demonstrations and blood-letting" if the posters were not banned.
Less predictably, a Swiss advertising agency has stated that it will sue the FN because of similarities between the poster and the one they devised for the Swiss People's Party during that party's successful campaign to halt the construction of minarets in Switzerland. The posters are being used as part of Jean-Marie Le Pen's attempt to be elected as president of Provence-Côte d'Azur - an area where the party was once strong, controlling the town of Orange and having a strong presence in cities like Toulon. The elections are taking place in two stages, over this weekend and next.
It will probably be the 81 year old's last political outing, and he will score reasonably well, as a sort of crusty national institution. The polls are predicting he will win 15% in the first round (the party is on about 8% nationally) and will get to the second stage, although he is unlikely to be elected - too many French apparently preferring, as Le Pen put it sadly when Sarkozy was elected as President in 2007, "the semblance of change" to actual change.
If by some remarkable chance Le Pen is elected, it may yet reinvigorate his faltering party, which risked all on the presidential election and has ever since suffered financial troubles and faction-fighting. The latter problem is partly Le Pen's own fault, for trying to catapult his 41 year old daughter Marine into his job over the heads of party stalwarts like Bruno Gollnisch and Carl Lang. Marine, incidentally, responded wittily to the furore over the poster by calling the career complainants "porteurs de valise" (bag-carriers) - a mischievously ambivalent expression alluding chiefly to 1950s French supporters of Algerian independence, but also to "carriers" of explosives.
France's Muslim quotient is a generally poor and alienated 10% of the total population, some of whose more exuberant representatives enrich the Gallic night scene with rioting, rapine, torchings, drug-dealing and other examples of joie de vivre. Sarkozy was elected at least partly because he appropriated or even exceeded Lepéniste rhetoric on this subject, which all sensible observers (and some on the Left) agree is a noxious problem. He referred to the miscreants as racaille - rabble - and said there would be a "war without mercy" on rioters.
Since then, perhaps partly due to the influence of beautiful but brainless Carla - who apart from frocks and her 'singing', is apparently strongly interested in 'anti-racism' - his administration has done rather less than he let voters believe it might. He has made half-hearted noises about banning the burqa - but this discussion has been going since at least 1989, predating Sarkozy, and is only being carried on at all because of the constitutional requirement that schools and other public spaces are entirely secular.
There have also been a few noises about opposing Turkey's EU membership, but his Islamic strategy still consists chiefly of appointing a few token Muslims to government posts, advocating 'positive discrimination' to lift Muslims into employment, calling for state money to be given to build mosques, redirecting even more argent into the stricken suburbs and calling for closer economical, cultural and political links with the very countries which are the source of all the banlieu bandits.
It is admittedly an extremely difficult problem he has inherited from his feckless predecessors, but then he was part of that irresponsible establishment himself as Chirac's allegedly 'tough' Interior Minister. Sarkozy is due for re-election in 2012, and it already begins to look as if, despite all the rhetoric, on this incandescent issue he will have achieved no more than any of the other previous incumbents of his office.