Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Copé, tapis

If politics were poker, Jean-François Copé would be "all in," as we say in English, or tapis, as one says in French, on his bet that the way to capture the presidential nomination in 2017 is to make Islam the central issue of French politics. Of course Copé is too intelligent to say any such thing, so instead he makes the most of an opportunity like the upcoming debate on "laïcité" to demonstrate, in the face of criticism from the likes of Fillon and Juppé, which ambitious politician of the Right will fight hardest to hold the line on Muslims. If the voters who are currently drifting or even running from the UMP to the FN want a reason to return, Copé is determined to give them one and to attach his name to it.

To be sure, he hides his game--maladroitly, but not without chutzpah. Consider his "Letter to a Muslim friend," written at the behest of L'Express. For the most part, it's sweetness and light. He pretends that his Muslim friend shares his "concern" that Islam has been misrepresented in France. His only desire is to help correct the record. But eventually he comes to the point, which is to say that, of course, Islam doesn't intend  to reduce itself to "the burqa, prayer in the street, or the rejection of mixité." And there, of course, he manages to echo the very images that Marine Le Pen has been hawking as the essence of Islam. Instead of considering the injuries done to Muslims by French policies and behaviors that have led to residential segregation, employment discrimination, and educational side-tracking, Copé suggests that the plight of Muslims is their own fault. If only they would embrace the separation of church and state imposed by the Law of 1905, if only they would dress as the French dress, if only they would cease their alleged oppression of women, all would be well. He neglects to observe that most Muslims do accept separation, do not hide their faces, and have no greater problem sorting out relations between the sexes than their non-Muslim counterparts yet still face problems not of their own making in their struggle to achieve full assimilation.

Disingenuousness is a fault that Copé shares with many other politicians. But this letter strikes me as particularly disingenuous. Copé is no Chantal Brunel, the UMP deputy who proposed to "put them back in boats." He is in full control of what he says, and measures his words to the millimeter. If he chooses to include in his thoughts about Islam the very images that the Front National wants to stand for all Muslims in France, very few of whom wear the burqa, pray in the streets, or keep harems, then you can be sure he has a reason for doing so. And that reason does him no credit.


brent said...

Copé's Judas kiss to his 'Muslim friend' is, as you suggest, a brilliant if disingenuous exercise. I wonder, though, in calling the radical islamists a 'superminority' and recalling the sacrifices of Muslims at Verdun, whether Copé is really sending the right dog whistles for FN supporters to hear. To me the message seemed more designed to massage the self-righteousness of his UMP base. (Who us? Racists?)

What is shocking, though, is the inadequacy of the PS response. M. Ouraoui counter-attacks in a puerile fashion, naming names without proposing any more enlightened PS program of the sort you allude to (housing, education, integration, etc.).If no one is brave enough to really speak on behalf of Muslim interests, then Copé's smarmy take-a-Muslim-to-lunch rhetoric sets the standard.

Anonymous said...

The worst that is French Muslims are first of all very French in that they're much, much less "religious" than in other countries. Most celebrate the main holidays and believe in some kind of God, but the vast majority doesn't attend mosque weekly, just like the vast majority of French Christians does not attend church weekly. (Religious attendance is about 10% in France... It's noticeably lower if you compare families, who in the US tend to attend for the children's sake, with Sunday school and in many instances church choir/activities, activities that are only considered "normal" in some areas of the country like Vendée and Alsace.) French people all have a variety of identities: one of them is their religion, one of them is where their ancestors came from, one of them is where they live (and that may be much more important than religious culture - especially for those living in the Hexagon's corners, think Brittany, Basque, Corsica, Provence..), plus their interests, hobbies, favorite soccer team....
I wonder why Coppé never wrote "lettre à un ami supporter du PSG".
Frankly, I hated Copé's "letter" for the reason you cite: "particularly disingenuous". It was "the Muslim as a prop", a concept I find beyond contempt.

Louis said...

Same here on both accounts. Copé's letter is disgusting. And the PS's reaction has been miserable. There is so much to say and do, but they won't take it. This is desperating.