View Full Version : Int'l Issues Sarkozy is a Leader.

12-10-2009, 09:07 AM
December 8, 2009

Nicolas Sarkozy: Muslims must be discreet about faith
(Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty)
Nicolas Sarkozy voiced sympathy for Swiss voters over their decision to ban new minarets

Nicolas Sarkozy stoked the debate over immigration today with a warning to Muslims to practise their religion discreetly or face rejection by moderate Islam in France.

The President voiced sympathy for Swiss voters who opted last week to ban minarets as he tried to reassert himself in a debate over national identity which he launched last month but that has since spiralled out of his control.

Over the past week, Mr Sarkozy had appeared to retreat from his original comments following a backlash over the way that they were being used against immigrants, particularly Muslims.

But in a column for Le Monde, Mr Sarkozy returned to his theme and said that the result of the Swiss referendum showed how important it was for France to define its identity.

"Instead of condemning the Swiss out of hand, we should try to understand what they meant to express and what so many people in Europe feel, including people in France," he wrote. "Nothing would be worse than denial."

Mr Sarkozy called for tolerance and underlined France's respect for all faiths, but his message was intended primarily to reassure those who are unhappy about what they see as a threatening Muslim presence in the country.

"Christians, Jews, Muslims, all believers regardless of their faith, must refrain from ostentation and provocation and ... practice their religion in humble discretion," Mr Sarkozy wrote.

Addressing himself to Muslims, he wrote that anything that could appear as a challenge to France's Christian heritage and republican values would "doom to failure" a moderate Islam in France.

In taking this line, Mr Sarkozy implicitly rejected attacks from the Left, the intellectual world and some senior figures in his own Gaullist camp over what they see as a ploy that stigmatises immigrants.

Dominique de Villepin, one of three Gaullist former prime ministers to disapprove, said today that Mr Sarkozy's debate was "rushed and brutal". Jean-Pierre Raffarin, another former premier, said that Mr Sarkozy had launched a "pub-style debate".

Mr Sarkozy's target audience is the broad swathe of conservative and rightwing voters who backed him heavily for the presidency in 2007. He argues that defending national identity is a noble cause, opposed only by the elite. This populist line is expected to benefit his party in national and local elections in March.

Mr Sarkozy enjoys majority public support with his opposition to Muslim women covering their faces in public. Parliament is reviewing ways of countering the practice and may propose an outright ban next month.

Opinion polls show rising unease over the population of 6 million Muslims. A survey last week found that 46 per cent favoured banning minarets, with 40 per cent against. More than 40 per cent opposed building any mosques, compared with only 19 per cent in favour.

France has 64 mosques with minarets but only seven are deemed to be full height, according to Brice Hortefeux, the Interior Minister.

The opposition Socialists and much of the wider Left are boycotting the debate. About 30,000 people have so far signed a petition by leading thinkers and politicians that calls for the exercise to be abandoned.

Mr Sarkozy's unabashed campaign is also causing disquiet among some MPs in his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). There was widespread disapproval last week when a UMP official, Andre Valentin, a mayor in a northern village, gave offensive endorsement to the debate. "It is time we reacted because we are going to be eaten alive," he said on television. "There are already 10 million of them, 10 million who are getting paid to do nothing."

Anti-immigrant contributors have poured a torrent of racist comment on to an internet site opened for the debate by Eric Besson, Minister for Immigration and National Identity. These include remarks such as "being France means being white, that's all" and "being French means learning to park your car in a garage to avoid having it set on fire".

The identity debate has confirmed Mr Besson, a former senior Socialist who switched horses during the 2007 election campaign, in the role of hate figure for his former camp.

The left-leaning intellectual world was also appalled when Adolf Hitler was brought into the debate by Christian Estrosi, the Industry Minister. "If on the eve of the Second World War, the German people had taken the time to asked themselves upon what German identity was based ... then perhaps we would have been able to avoid the ... shipwreck of European civilisation," he said.

After a month of state-organised town hall meetings around the country, Parliament yesterday began debating identity. The campaign ends in February with recommendations for the Government to act on.