"The insufferable Mr. Gueant"

"Not all civilisations are equal" a gem from interior minister Claude Gueant to a group of right wing students at the weekend, that's now sparked outrage across the political spectrum. This isn't his first offence, of course; le Parisien has a neat round up of some of his most controversial remarks over the last year, which include saying that the French no longer feel at home in France because there are too many immigrants, and that two thirds of students who drop out of school have foreign parents; not something backed up by statistics. Gueant himself has refused to apologise for any of these statements, despite getting a reputation as the ruling UMP's anti-immigrant attack dog - his response to the latest row is to tell le Figaro that he regrets nothing, and that the left's belief in multiculturalism is in fact 'moral relativism' that ignores the fact that democracy, women's rights and so on are better than the alternative. When you've finished being righteously indignant about the idea that those concepts are somehow innately Western (read: non-Muslim) the question to ask is whether he just speaks for himself, or if he's saying out loud what everyone on the right thinks.


The official line at the UMP, voiced this weekend by foreign minister Alain Juppé, is that Gueant is a loose cannon, but this doesn't hold up to much examination. Firstly, he fulfils a convenient political role for Nicolas Sarkozy; he allows the president to avoid saying anything too controversial on immigration, while still currying favour with Front National-favouring voters, something that could soon be very significant indeed, as speculation grows that Marine Le Pen herself might not be able to get herself on the ballot paper. That's certainly what the far right FN themselves think; in the past they've welcomed Gueant appropriating their discourse, now they're furiously attacking him, clearly afraid of losing voters.


Is Gueant, and indeed Marine Le Pen, really the problem, though, or are they a symptom? Look again at that remark in this morning's Figaro - multiculturalism in itself is bad, we should recognise that Western (French) values are somehow innately superior. That's not a remark you can imagine any politician in the Anglophone world coming out with and keeping their jobs. And therein lies the problem; French politicians on the left are as much responsible for creating a political culture in which you can say this as are those on the right, with their constant emphasis on French values, the secular state, and their defence of laws like banning the burqa, couched in a language that isn't that much different to Gueant's; a language of 'us' and 'them', that always implies there is something about Islam that is incompatible with 'our' values. There are many things wrong with race relations in both Britain and America, but politicians on all sides at least have realised multiculturalism is something to be valued, and that national identity is such a kaleidoscope of shfting sands anyway it's pointless to try and pin it down from one day to the next. Here, though, the notion that some beliefs are immutably French, and thus some beliefs can never be, isn't ever questioned - and until it is, there will still be Claude Gueants, and the right wing's dirty secret will still be that this sort of remark is a deliberate pitch for votes.


For more politics, join me for the morning version of Campaign Chronicles, every day at 9.50 on France24.


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France will become like a museum to the past and the French people the main exhibits in that museum. Politicians in USA or britain might not make the same remarks as Gueant but you bet yer life there's many members of the public in both countries who wish Britain and the USA was more like France. Just check out the message boards after any article written about the Burka ban. The problem France ha is that their attempts to make all immigrants follow French values just results in a backlash and they end up resenting French values. Britain's political elite welcome immigrants and their cultures but many members of communities feel Britain has lost its identity. Either way multi culturalism is a force than cannot be stopped anywhere while the world is being driven by a global economy. France and its elite and those in Britain and the USA who miss the days gone by, justhave to get ued to it as soon as possible.

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