On Sunday, French President François Hollande will lead a Unity Rally in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. “Unity is our best weapon,” he said in an address to the nation on Friday. The leaders of France’s political parties, as well as the prime ministers of Britain, Spain, Germany, and Italy, will attend. Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right National Front, has not been invited.
“It is very clear,” she said. “They say that the National Front are not welcome to a meeting where every other party is invited. There is no longer national unity, it’s disappeared because of their actions.”
I never thought I’d say this, but the National Front is right.
The point of the rally is to express national unity, and the National Front, however distasteful its views, is part of that nation. The party represents a significant portion of French society, having won a historic 25 percent of the vote in the last European elections. Those voices should be included in a rally intended to unite the country, regardless of political affiliation. Exclusion will only create more enmity, and allow the party to further portray itself as an underdog marginalized by the political establishment—thereby exacerbating right-wing extremism.
Charlie Hebdo was a beacon for freedom of speech. Just as we don’t have to defend acts of blasphemy to defend the right to blaspheme, the French political establishment does not have to agree with the National Front’s views in order to include it in the conversation. That’s how a democracy works.