The Claude Guéant affair that was reported on yesterday's Global Agenda, produced a sequel. During the parliamentary question hour, the French Socialist deputy from Martinique, Serge Letchimy, rose from his seat and scolded the Minister of the Interior who had stated that all civilizations are not equal, for being fond of "those European ideologies that have given birth to the concentration camps."
Letchimy went on to state that "an obscure France exists that cultivates a nostalgia for that epoch." The furious deputies from the Minister's UMP left the National Assembly in a huff, and the speaker suspended the session.
This is the last thing that the Socialists wanted. Fighting the election on the economic issue was a sure thing, given the government's sorry record and the newly published statistics on the soaring balance of payments deficit. The economics issue united the party base and attracted the floating voters in the center. Now the party was being dragged into the much more uncertain terrain of identity politics.
The Socialist presidential candidate, Francois Hollande, was in a pickle when Prime Minister Francois Fillon asked him to apologize for his party member's outburst. He temporized, "what I disapprove of are unuseful polemics. I, for one, wish to gather the French together", while exculpating the Letchimy outburst as coming from a person "who was undoubtedly wounded and humiliated."
If Hollande had issued a full-fledged apology, he would have been portrayed as a wimp by the extreme left which had expressed total support for Letchimy. Eva Joly, the Ecologist candidate, claimed that the Minister of the Interior had sowed the wind and was reaping the whirlwind.
The UMP pressed on with its attack, demanding censure, suspension of rights and even temporary banishment from the National Assembly for Letchimy. However, for the UMP, the deputy from Martinique was small fry; they wanted to get at the Socialists and their candidate.
The Minister for Higher Education, Laurent Wauqiez, used the affair to criticize the intellectual snobbery of the left that "gives lessons to the entire world," and whose "dictionary of political correctness becomes transformed into (Mao Tse-tung's) Little Red Book."
Brice Hortefeux, former Minister of the Interior and a close associate of President Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed that he was not shocked so much by Letchimy as by the support that he received from Hollande.
Jean Francois Cope, the UMP party secretary, accused the Socialists of insulting the victims of Nazism "in terms of indecency. Insult in the Socialist Party of Francois Hollande has no limit."
Gueant accused Letchimy of attempting to exploit the Shoah (using the Hebrew word for the holocaust).
The National Front was in an uncomfortable position. If it supported the Minister of the Interior, it would give the impression that its voters could support Sarkozy on the second ballot if its own candidate, Marine Le Pen,is eliminated. On the other hand, if a brawl erupts over an issue close to its heart, it can not very well stay on the sidelines. Therefore, it tried to belittle the interior minister on the one hand, while agreeing in substance with his argument, saying "the sharia is not the European Convention on Human Rights", or "I respect many other civilizations but I have the right to think that a Symphony Orchestra is superior to a tom-tom drum."
The main Jewish organization – the Representative Council of Jewish institutions in France (CRIF) - that was about to host Sarkozy at its annual dinner, claimed that it would have felt more comfortable if the minister had used "system of moral values" rather than the term civilizations, while declining to comment on Letchimy.