Sunday, February 5, 2012

Claude Guéant Unleashes a Furor

Claude Guéant unleashed a furor yesterday by appearing to establish a hierarchy of "civilizations" in which those that allegedly value "liberty, equality, and fraternity" (three innocently chosen words, I'm sure) are ranked above the rest, which he stigmatized as favoring "tyranny, the subordination of women, and social or ethnic hatred." Condemnations were swift:
Dans un communiqué, le Mouvement des jeunes socialistes (MJS) a "condamné les propos" de M. Guéant en lui "demandant "ce qu'il cherchait en s'enfermant dans son discours xénophobe et raciste. Le ministre "se range dans la catégorie de ceux qui différencient et hiérarchisent les hommes, permettant le basculement vers un véritable racisme culturel", ont-ils ajouté.

SOS Racisme a dit, dans un communiqué, "espérer un démenti urgent" de ces propos. "Si ces derniers, très graves, avaient été bel et bien tenus par le ministre de l'Intérieur en fonction, ils marqueraient une nouvelle étape dans une dérive vers des extrêmes inacceptables, structurés notamment par des logiques d'infériorisation de l'Autre".
Guéant, once a faceless bureaucrat, has emerged as Sarkozy's frontman in playing the xenophobia card. I think it is a card that Sarkozy has played once too often, however, and this time the ploy won't work. For one thing, it can't be done by proxy. It was one thing when Sarkozy himself stood on the dalle in Argenteuil and promised to clean out the racaille. He fit the tough guy part, and voters disposed to go for this sort of thing found him believable. Guéant, who doesn't look like a man ready for a fight despite his proven readiness to serve the bureaucratic needs of the tough guy's policies, lacks beauf appeal. He's no match for Marine Le Pen in this arena, whereas Sarkozy was once a plausible replacement for her father.

Furthermore, Sarkozy has tried throughout his presidency to raise "the defense of civilization" as a code word for "rejection of the other." It didn't work when, in Rome, he said that schoolteachers could never replace priests; it didn't work when he cribbed from Edgar Morin a supposed "politics of civilization" as a substitute for the relentless pursuit of a larger GDP. It didn't work when he tried to launch a great debate on national identity built on the idea of a "European"or "Christian" civilization from which Muslims who refused to assimilate would be excluded. And this last, pathetic attempt to borrow from the American Christian right the anathema upon "secular relativism" that Guéant pronounced yesterday before the right-wing student group Uni is similarly doomed to the failure it so richly deserves.

"Sarko l'Américain" seems to want to import "dogwhistle politics" from the United States. France should definitively reject this contribution of American "civilization" to the French debate.