Two stories from the French media recently where the party in power, pushed by the Far Right, has managed to get itself into all kinds of trouble. Watching this unfold one is very tempted to channel Jacques Chirac who once said this about his allies/adversaries, "Ils ont perdu une bonne occasion de se taire." (They missed a good opportunity to stay silent.)
The first missed opportunity I'd like to mention came from our old friend, Claude Guéant, Minister of the Interior and author of the now infamous "circulaire" against foreign students.
So what did Guéant say this time? In a speech he gave in early February, he stated that: "Contrairement à ce que dit l'idéologie relativiste de gauche, pour nous, toutes les civilisations ne se valent pas." (Contrary to what the left-wing relativist ideology says, for us, not all civilizations are equal.) Naturally, people responded to this by asking the obvious questions, "OK, so how do you rank them, sir?" and "Which civilizations do you think make (or don't) the cut?" And with that we entered very dangerous territory because there are no acceptable answers to those questions that won't drag someone further into the pit. When questioned about it later Guéant reaffirmed his statement and gave examples like the wearing of the burkha or public prayer. It was embarrassing to watch him flailing about trying to find the right "code" to get his very negative message across. Here is a nice bit of reporting on it from TF1.
The second missed opportunity came recently in response to a debate launched by Marine Le Pen concerning meat slaughtered in a fashion that conforms to Islamic tradition and law (halal). At first Sarkozy replied by saying it was "not a problem" and then he seemed to be calling for new labeling laws. Let's be generous and say that his views were evolving when his Prime Minister Fillon fearlessly threw himself into the fray in this interview on Europe1.
Basically Fillon suggested that both Moslems and Jews take another look at their ancestral traditions that "n'ont plus grand-chose à voir avec l'état aujourd'hui de la science, l'état de la technologie, les problèmes de santé." (no longer have anything to do with modern science, technology and health issues.) Needless to say, both groups are highly unamused by his words.
Following Fillon's performance other French politicians prudently kept their distance from this topic. Ironically, it was Dominique de Villepin who said exactly what I was thinking - he lamented that François Fillon "aurait mieux fait de se taire" (would have done better to stay silent.)
If they are incapable of raising the level of the debate and they continue to happily bumble into traps set for them by the Far Right then there is no hope for them and they will deserve everything they get when the election finally rolls around later this year.