Everyday terror: the bomb-making factory set up by 7/7 bombers in a council flat bedroom in Leeds. Photo: July 7 Inquests/PA
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David Selbourne: The challenge of Islam

The author was asked by John Kerry to write a briefing paper on the Islamist threat. He explains here what he told the US secretary of state and why he feels progressives have allowed themselves to be silenced by frightened self-censorship and the stifling of debate. Read Mona Siddiqui’s response to the piece, The Arabisation of Islam, here.

The In Anemas gas plant, Algeria, seen from the air. It was attacked by Islamists in January 2013.

 

A beheading in Woolwich, a suicide bomb in Beijing, a blown-up marathon in Boston, a shooting in the head of a young Pakistani girl seeking education, a destroyed shopping mall in Nairobi – and so it continues, in the name of Islam, from south London to Timbuktu. It is time to take stock, especially on the left, since these things are part of the world’s daily round.

Leave aside the parrot-cry of “Islamophobia” for a moment. I will return to it. Leave aside, too, the pretences that it is all beyond comprehension. “Progressives” might ask instead: what do Kabul, Karachi, Kashmir, Kunming and a Kansas airport have in common? Is it that they all begin with “K”? Yes. But all of them have been sites of recent Islamist or, in the case of Kansas, of wannabe-Islamist, attacks; at Wichita Airport planned by a Muslim convert ready to blow himself up, and others, “in support of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”. “We cannot stop lone wolves,” a British counterterrorism expert told us after Woolwich. Are they “lone”? Of course not.

A gas facility in southern Algeria, a hospital in Yemen, an Egyptian police convoy in the Sinai – it’s complex all right – a New Year’s party in the southern Philippines, a railway station in the Caucasus, a bus terminal in Nigeria’s capital, and on and on, have all been hit by jihadis, with hostages taken, suicide belts detonated, cars and trucks exploded, and bodies blown to bits. And Flight MH370? Perhaps. In other places – in Red Square and Times Square, in Jakarta and New Delhi, in Amman and who-knows-where in Britain – attacks have been thwarted. But in 2013 some 18 countries got it in the neck (so to speak) from Islam’s holy warriors.

There are battlefields and battlefields in this conflict. Some are theatres of actual or potential civil war, most often when Sunnis and Shias are at each other’s throats on behalf, respectively, of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Other battlefields are in failed or failing Muslim states, others again where the “infidel” has unwisely intruded upon and assaulted Muslim lands. At the same time, weapons and warriors are in constant movement in Islam’s cause across dis­solving national boundaries, many of them of western colonialism’s creation. And in India, with its 175 million Muslims, their mujahedin will be in action soon enough if Hindu nationalists come to power this month.

Jihadist groups, from Pakistan to the Philippines, also fight each other. But for the most part they are consolidating and expanding – often as affiliates of al-Qaeda – in the Arabian Peninsula, in the Maghreb, in Somalia and Kenya, in Iraq and Syria, in Gaza, in Bangladesh and in south-east Asia. There are separatist or secessionist Islamic insurgencies, too, from Russia’s Caucasus to north-west China, in southern Thailand, in Burma, in northern Nigeria and in divided Kashmir.

Warriors for Islam, believing that they are under “infidel” threat, today range an increasingly frontier-less world. That’s “globalisation” too. A car-bombing in New York – which failed – was planned by a Pakistani-American trained in a tribal area of northern Waziristan. Many would-be warriors from western countries learned their skills from Taliban instructors, going on to fight in Iraq as they now fight in Syria. There, ubiquitous “Bearers of the Sword” and “Defenders of the Faith” from Britain and France, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, Indonesia and Kazakhstan, and even Uighurs from Chinese Xinjiang, are to be found armed to the teeth in the battle against Assad while being trained for future combat in their countries of origin.

In the Islamist merry-go-round, jihadis from Libya – after the country’s collapse – went on to Syria, Tunisian holy warriors crossed into Mali, Egyptian and Canadian Muslim fighters were among the attackers on the refinery in Algeria, and Somalis from Minnesota have returned home to join al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda affiliate that carried out the Kenyan mall attack. Ugandan Islamists are in eastern Congo, and a Malaysian army captain was linked to two of the 9/11 hijackers. Beat this? No.

It is not “Islamophobia” that registers these facts. Instead, there is an objective historical need, and duty, to record radical Islam’s many-sided and determined advance upon the “infidel” world. Most still do not know what manner of force – the millions of peaceful Muslims notwithstanding – has struck it. And, with its own arms and ethics, it will continue to do so, perhaps till kingdom come.

Here US and western defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq – what else were they? – weigh heavily in the scale of things. In Afghanistan, despite the loss of many thousands of lives and at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, with huge waste and corruption by military contractors and with reliance on unsavoury local satraps, the Taliban remain active throughout the land. Even the US-trained Afghan army is riddled with their supporters. Yet American illusion has seen victory in the coming retreat, and in defeat a “mission accomplished”, in David Cameron’s absurd judgement.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan, set to recover from yet another western incursion into its land, has entered a long-term security pact with Iran. Similarly in Iraq, years of death and destruction and billions in reconstruction grants mostly lost to local and US corruption have left no stable government nor a reliable western ally. Instead, there is an intensifying Shia-Sunni civil war, with thousands of dead in 2013, while al-Qaeda insurgents have reconquered areas in western Iraq previously “captured” – another illusion – by US marines.

The complexities (and double-games) of the Islamic world are a labyrinth for the “infidel”. It is a labyrinth that western reason, such as it now is, has never mastered, and that it cannot master now with hellfire missiles and unmanned drones.

After all, the political wing of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood calls itself the “Freedom and Justice” party – well, yes and no, and it certainly offers little freedom or justice to women. Again, some of the Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia included, pose as western allies and host US air and naval bases but give covert support to selected jihadist groups. And what does the western illus­ionist make of the fact that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and are said to have had covert financial and logistical support from Saudi diplomats and intelligence officials?

The labyrinth of nuclear-armed Pakistan is denser. Struggling with its own jihadist insurgency in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, it is attempting peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, yet there is growing Islamist radicalism in the ranks of the Pakistani army itself. The Pakistani intelligence agencies also play their own games – and are accused of sheltering some of the Afghan Taliban – while Pakistan’s parliament condemned the US raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. In this labyrinth, there are other elements that will for ever be beyond US and western mastery now; the influence of China – the main source of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons – is growing in the region.

There is little in all this for “progressives” to cheer. Yet the left continues covertly to celebrate US foreign policy blunders and defeats, while the naive see jihadists as a minority of “fanatics”. It is not so simple. To add to the confusion, President Obama’s stances, however well intentioned, have made their own contribution to the Islamic renaissance. Or as he expressed it in a speech in Cairo in June 2009, America and Islam “share common principles . . . of justice and progress, tolerance” – tolerance? – “and the dignity of all human beings”.

 

Everyday terror: the bomb-making factory set up by 7/7 bombers in a council flat bedroom in Leeds. Photo: July 7 Inquests/PA

 

The west and the US, frightened by their defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq, have lost their way in Assad’s Syria. Here the Muslim labyrinth is particularly dense. For Syria is an Iranian client state, backed by Russia and even North Korea, which is trying to fight off al-Qaeda-linked holy warriors from every corner of the Muslim (and non-Muslim) world, while a political alliance opposed to Bashar al-Assad tries to make its voice heard amid the carnage.

All the while, less-than-notable “world statesmen” have dithered over what aid to give to the anti-Assad forces, and wavered over whether to launch a military strike against Syria’s ruler. Between them, they have surrendered influence (as in Egypt) to Russia, able by skilful manoeuvre simultaneously to support Assad while moving to relieve him of his chemical weapons. As the Syrian civil war deepens, with over 150,000 dead and more than two million refugees, there have even been incoherent western attempts to treat secretly both with Assad over security co-operation and with the jihadist gangs, as heads roll in radical Islamic style and peace talks fail.

Wearied or sickened by all this? Yes. But it is the fate of the impotent western powers that is being determined by it. For the “jihad” is advancing in Syria to the eastern Mediterranean seaboard, while the muez­zin’s call to an increasingly ardent faith grows more insistent throughout the Islamic world.

In Shia Iran, memories of the historic Persian empire are quickening as Tehran’s foes flail around in the face of its ayatollahs’ ambitions and wiles. Above all, Iran has got the west on the ropes with its nuclear programme. The interim “freeze” to its uranium enrichment activities was not what it seemed; on Iranian TV on 21 February Behrouz Kamalvandi, of the national Atomic Energy Organisation, declared that the country’s nuclear commitments were “temporary and non-obligatory”. Iran still has a stockpile of enriched uranium, and still has tens of thousands of centrifuges, with nuclear research continuing, including on new advanced centrifuges. A “freeze” on further enrichment up to weapons grade, and a “downgrading” of some of its existing stockpile to less potent levels, were more tokens than substance. It left Iran usefully on the cusp of producing a nuclear weapon within a very short time, if (or when) it chooses, while it can continue to develop and test ballistic missiles.

It was also, yet again, a “deal” obtained from western weakness, not strength. After all, the alternative was an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations, some now buried too deep for aerial assault, and a new war to be lost after those in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Iran, the “deal” was rightly hailed by the regime as “a victory over the west”. Or as Iran’s “moderate” president, Hassan Rowhani put it on Twitter on 14 January, “the world powers surrendered to the Iranian nation’s will”. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s “supreme leader”, did not hide the Iranian position. “I am in favour of showing a champion’s leniency,” he declared of the western willingness to compromise with Iran as the Pax Americana wanes in the world.

Nothing could have been lamer than US Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion during the negotiations that the Iranians had a “choice”: to treat with the world, or to “leave themselves more isolated”. Instead, the US was once more acting in fear and in the impotent name of “outreach” to a foe. But Iran will never be the “strategic partner”of the US as some wishful thinkers hope.

With more than 500 executions, including for “waging war on God”, since the “moderate” Rowhani came to office – more per capita, one might say, than any other country – with its new pact with Afghanistan, its joint naval manoeuvres with Pakistan, its growing influence in Iraq, its behind-the-scenes accords with Russia, its improving relations with Islamising Turkey (and even with Jordan and Morocco), its dominance over Damascus, its ambitions to rule the Gulf and with two warships despatched in January to the Atlantic, Iran’s present course is clear. Moreover, the true secret of the nuclear “deal” was that Iran does not yet need a nuclear weapon, but it did urgently need sanctions relief. With its Revolutionary Guard shipping arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Hamas in Gaza, it will move on to nuclear weapons in its own good time.

As for Israel, its mere existence, threatened by both Shia and Sunni jihadists, is ready-made to serve radical Islam’s cause. Neither Israel’s belligerence on the one hand nor its seeming desire for a political settlement on the other can abate the proclaimed intent of Hamas, which is funded not only by Iran but also by Turkey and others, to “eliminate” it. Such intransigence is matched by insensate Israeli colonisation, giving further aid to the jihadis’ cause. At the same time, the truth of the Jews’ multi-millennial association – long pre-dating the existence of Islam – with Jerusalem and the “land of Israel” is flatly denied, with Palestinian militants laying claim to the same land as “our land by right”.

Nothing, it seems, can halt the will among some for the extinction of Israel, while Iran’s Khamenei could describe it in November 2013 as the “rabid dog” of the region.

A “Jewish state” is also seen by the holy warrior (and others) as by definition “racist”; with some reason in the case of Jewish zealots. Yet some of us take the notion of a theocratic “Muslim state” governed by Islamic sharia – there are many such states – in our stride. With Israeli security and Palestinian aspiration seemingly irreconcilable, this conflict appears beyond resolution, whether by John Kerry or by any other representative of America’s fading imperium.

After the publication in the US in 2005 of my book The Losing Battle With Islam, Kerry rang me to discuss the arguments in it. When he became secretary of state I told him (with some presumption) that the non-Muslim world is too unaware of what is afoot, hobbled by its wishful thinking and lack of knowledge, and whistling in the dark. In a position paper I wrote for him, I set out a list of the failures that the west, and especially the US, has on its hands. Among them are the failure to recognise the ambition of radical Islam; the failure to condemn the silence of most Muslims at the crimes committed in their names; the failure to respond adequately to the persecution of Christians in many Muslim lands; the failure to grasp the nature of the non-military skills that are being deployed against the non-Muslim world – skills of manoeuvre, skills in deceiving the gullible, skills in making temporary truces in order to gain time (as in Iran); and, perhaps above all, the failure to realise the scale and speed of Islam’s advance.

“If things continue like this,” I told friend Kerry, “the history of our age may one day be written under a caliphate’s supervision.” I added brashly: “Get your aides to read the Quran. Keep political correctors at bay,” and “stop looking for the emergence of Jeffersonian democracies in Muslim lands”. “It has gotten me thinking,” he replied; and after further exchanges, “I agree with a great deal of what you’ve said.”

But in the rising swirl of events, the secretary of state can no more control the incoming tide than could Canute. In perpetual motion, Kerry is disabled by the chaos of indecision and interference in Obama’s White House. He is handicapped by having to make near-simultaneous moves on dozens of Muslim chessboards against generally more cunning opponents.

In the chaos, and like others in the US administration, Kerry called for Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to step down and thus helped open the way for the Muslim Brotherhood before complaining that it had “stolen” the Egyptian election (by ballot-rigging and intimidation). Naivety, masquerading as diplomacy, also led him to compliment Pakistan for its help in tracking down al-Qaeda’s leader. Yet Bin Laden had been protected for years by Pakistan’s own security apparatus. Kerry even “pleaded” with the Iranians to sign up to a nuclear deal.

The word “plead” tells us all we need to know about America’s failing powers. But Kerry has also been buffeted to and fro by vacillation in the White House, excluded from its inner councils – an alternative state department of the mediocre whom Obama prefers to have around him – and has been briefed against to the US press.

His is an unenviable position, despite appearances. For the US to be without a coherent foreign policy strategy in the face of the complexities of the Islamic world’s advance is no surprise. But for it to be quite so disabled points to an unusual degree of confusion in high places.

In August 2013 a White House spokesman declared that al-Qaeda was “severely diminished”. A mere two months later, the director of the FBI announced that “the threat posed by al-Qaeda has become hydra-headed”. Which? And as the Pax Americana recedes into the past, there is always an ostrich – in this case, Obama’s lightweight national security adviser, Susan Rice – to tell the American public that “US leadership”, as it grows frailer and as cuts to its military bite deeper, will “continue to be unrivalled”, and that the US “will remain the most influential, powerful and important country in the world”. Really?

But at the heart of US weakness is Obama himself. In foreign fields, his strategies – in so far as they can be identified – have been dithering, improvised and uncertain. He deserves a measure of sympathy: today’s Islam is the most redoubtable adversary to the American imperium it has ever faced, the challenge of the Comintern included.

In many of its theatres, the complexities, skills and deceits of the Muslim world would have bewildered a Machiavelli. In others, American wishful thinking can reach comic levels. When Bin Laden was killed in May 2011 al-Qaeda, declared Obama, was now a “shadow of its former self”, near “decapacitated”. In May 2012, similar illusions told him that the Taliban’s momentum had been “broken”; in November last year, that Iran’s “most likely paths to a bomb” had been “cut off” or (in faux-macho style) “rolled back”. And so on.

It is the wishful thinking of a man who is a non-belligerent at heart. In normal times this is a virtue. But these are not normal times: the US is playing a decreasingly significant role in the world’s conflicts, even as Islamist ambition and reach – despite the internecine hatreds in Muslim ranks – break new bounds.

This ambition grows more confident by the day, taking reverses in its stride. In the face of Obama’s risk-aversion (or idleness), Islamists make no bones about their aspiration for “mastership of the world”, as Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood leader, put it in December 2011. Muslim (and not merely Islamist) disdain for “the west” is also growing; in July 2012, the speaker of the Iranian parliament des­cribed it as a “dark spot in the present era”.

Such confidence, or arrogance, is easily understood. For these are times in which conversions to Islam in western countries are accelerating. Today, one-quarter of humanity is Muslim. It is a proportion that is rising steadily, making possible a Muslim majority in Russia, for example, by the century’s end. To the marginalised and lost in free societies, Islam increasingly offers an identity, an ethic, and a home. In the eyes of the Muslim Brotherhood, America “does not champion moral and human values” and “cannot lead humanity”. Agree or not, it is clear that “freedom ’n’ liberty”, especially in the form of the “free market” with its crazed impulse to endless “growth”, will turn out one day to have been no match for the faith. Tony Blair’s anxious speech to Bloomberg the other day suggests that the big corporate interests that he represents are beginning to be aware of it.

To the aid of Islam has also come the betrayal by much of today’s left of its notionally humane principles, as Christians are assaulted and murdered (shades of what was done to the Jews in the 1930s) and their churches desecrated and destroyed from Egypt to the Central African Republic, from Iran to Indonesia, and from Pakistan to Nigeria. Islam can kill its own apostates, too; in many Muslim countries denies reciprocity to other faiths in rights of worship; and seeks to prevent reasoned discussion about its beliefs by attempted resort to blasphemy laws.

So where is the old left’s centuries-long espousal of free speech and free thought? Where is the spirit of Tom Paine? The answer is simple. It has been curbed by frightened self-censorship and by the stifling of debate, in a betrayal of the principles for which “progressives” were once prepared to go to the stake. And just as some Jews are too quick to call anti-Zionists “anti-Semites”,
so some leftists are too quick to tar critics of Islam as “Islamophobes”.

To add to such falsehoods come the illusionists of every stripe, with their unknowing, simplistic or false descriptions of Islam as a “religion of peace”. Even today’s Pope – as the Christian faithful were being harried, persecuted or put to the sword in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq and beyond – told the world in November 2013 that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Quran are opposed to every form of violence”. But read the text yourself, and you will see that jihadists can find plenty justification for the acts they commit, even if most Muslims are pacific.

Karl Marx was wiser than the Pope. In March 1854, he wrote that for “Islamism” – the word was already in use – “the Infidel is the enemy” and that the Quran “treats all foreigners as foes”.

The present renaissance of Islam, additionally provoked, as ever, by western aggressions against its lands, is an old story of swift movement and conquest, as in the 7th century. Is something like it stirring again? Perhaps; you decide. In 50 years’ time the world will know for sure.

David Selbourne is a political philosopher and commentator. “The Losing Battle With Islam” is published by Prometheus Books

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.