In February, France got a sneak peek at the presidential race taking shape for next year: far-right leader Marine Le Pen and President Emmanuel Macron’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin faced each other in a TV debate. Coinciding with the Assemblée Nationale’s discussion of a new law on “separatism,” the debate centred on immigration, integration and Islamism. These are the issues already setting the rhythm in the race for the Élysée—issues that seem strange priorities amid a pandemic.
Darmanin, standing in for his boss—who not long ago was seen as the last best hope for European liberals—described Le Pen as “too soft on Islam.” The country’s most famous chauvinist, looking stunned, found herself defending her fellow citizens’ right to religious freedom. Skimming through Darmanin’s newly published book on “Islamist separatism,” she responded: “Your book, I could have written it.”
Le Monde feared that Darmanin’s stance had offered Le…
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