French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to start a dialogue with his countrymen about their national identity, a subject that would not have raised eyebrows 50 years ago but has engendered a fierce political debate today.
Martine Aubry, leader of the opposition Socialist party, contends Sarkozy is just playing electoral politics by appealing to his conservative base in advance of next year’s regional elections.
But Sarkozy showed he is serious during a 45-minute speech on Thursday that Elysee Palace had billed as being dedicated solely to farm subsidies and related issues.
What's more, he demonstrated that he is willing to wage a head-on battle against the forces of political correctness.
Recalling the worst moments of the Nazi occupation during World War II, Sarkozy said the French discovered that they had a national soul only when they were about to lose it.
Then he espoused a national identity that might resonate for Americans in the wake of the Fort Hood, Texas, massacre by a Muslim-American army major who reportedly espoused radical Muslim beliefs.
Sarkozy suggested that France could be on the verge of losing its soul because of a multiculturalism that tolerates radical Islamic fundamentalism.
France emerged as a nation state with a strong central government in the 17th century under Louis XIV but has changed its system of government many times since then. The current French state, known as the Fifth Republic, was established when Gen. De Gaulle returned to power in 1958.
Sarkozy warned that many of his fellow citizens have lost touch with the values that gave rise to the republic through a blind embrace of secular culture. No one should confuse the separation of church and state as the denial of religion or religiosity, Sarkozy insisted.
“There is not a single free thinker, Freemason, or atheist who doesn’t feel the tug of a Christian heritage that has left so many deep furrows in the French mind-set,” he said.
At the heart of the identity crisis plaguing today’s France is a significant immigrant population that refuses to become French, and a multicultural left that has allowed them to live isolated in ghettoes for decades, where many have fallen prey to Muslim preachers of hate.
About 10 percent of the French population is of Muslim origin. Most French Muslims emigrated from North Africa to France after Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia won their independence in the 1960s.
Although many have assimilated into French secular society, which Sarkozy applauded, others openly seek to transform France into a Muslim nation and have won allies in the multicultural left.
“France does not demand that you give up your history or your culture,” Sarkozy said. “But France demands of those who would link their fates to hers to also share her history and her culture. France is not hodgepodge of communities or individuals. . . Becoming French means accepting a form of civilization, values, and customs.”
Sarkozy’s definition of those values left no ambiguity from which direction he felt the danger was coming: “France is a country where women are free. France is a country where church is separate from state, and where the beliefs of each person are respected.
“But France is also a country where there is no room for the burka, and where there is no room for the subjugation of women under any circumstance or pretext.”
The French have debated for 25 years whether Muslim women should be allowed to veil themselves in public schools or in public workplaces, as radical Muslim preachers and their supporters on the left have demanded.
Sarkozy ended that debate scarcely one year after becoming president by outlawing the veil in public last year.
In announcing the reform at the time, Sarkozy said he was troubled by the “discriminatory and degrading” Islamist practice of veiling women.
“I don’t want certain neighborhoods to feel more like Kabul or Tehran than France,” he said.
The same day Sarkozy gave his speech on national identity, police turned away a group of women wearing Islamist veils as they attempted to enter the French National Assembly.
Sarkozy took direct aim at radical secularists as well. While calling on immigrants to share French values, he said French men and women have to believe in those values themselves.
“To open our doors to others, we have to have enough confidence in ourselves. We must be sure of our values and of our model,” he said.
“By giving in to moral equivalence that proclaims all values, behaviors and accomplishments to be the same, we strike a blow against the idea of civilization and against society itself,” he said.
And then he warned: “And it is for this reason, my fellow citizens, that anyone who comes to France to call for violence and hatred of the other will be deported.”
If France is having problems with integrating Muslims, “it is not our values that are at fault but our departure from them, at times even our denial of them,” Sarkozy said.
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