Martinique’s Serge Letchimy Challenges Comment on the “Value” of Some Civilizations over Others

The French parliament erupted in an uproar Tuesday after Socialist lawmaker Serge Letchimy from Martinique suggested that Minister of Interior Claude Guéant’s comments sounded dangerously close to Nazi ideology. Guéant, who has been known to deliver strong pronouncements against immigration in France (and to be particularly concerned about the size of the Muslim population there), had pronounced that not all civilizations are equal. His exact words were: “Contrary to what relativistic leftist ideology says, all civilizations are not equal. Those who defend humanity seem more advanced than those who deny it.” [Contrairement à ce que dit l’idéologie relativiste de gauche, pour nous, toutes les civilisations ne se valent pas. Celles qui défendent l’humanité nous paraissent plus avancées que celles qui la nient.]

What is interesting about this event is that Guéant’s pronouncement was not met by major uproar; what caused noisy protests were Letchimy’s comments in response. The Washington Post writes:

Socialist lawmaker Serge Letchimy from Martinique questioned Interior Minister Claude Guéant about his comments that some civilizations—notably France’s—are worth more than others. Guéant’s remarks, which have caused a firestorm, had been widely seen as a putdown of Muslims. Opposition Socialists have called the comments an attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservatives to woo far-right votes ahead of the two-round presidential election in April and May. Tuesday’s session of government questions had to be suspended after lawmakers from Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party began walking out in a noisy protest.

Letchimy said Guéant is “day by day leading us back to these European ideologies that gave birth to concentration camps.” After a loud protests interrupted him, he added: “Mr. Guéant, the Nazi regime, which was so concerned about purity, was that a civilization?” Speaking to reporters later, Letchimy said “as the son of a slave, I cannot accept this kind of phrase” like the one used by Guéant. Letchimy said he wanted to “sound an alarm” over this kind of “negation.”

Conservative Prime Minister Francois Fillon, in a statement, called Letchimy’s comment “an indecent provocation” that “brings shame on those who make it.” Fillon, a member of Sarkozy’s UMP party, urged the leaders of the Socialist opposition party to condemn Letchimy’s statement.

Yesterday, LibéMarseille (Libération) reported on Ségolène Royal’s take on the French National Assembly “scandal:” “There is freedom of speech in the Assembly. This is the beating heart of the Republic, where elected officials express themselves (…) I know Serge Letchimy well; he is a descendant of slaves. He is fully entitled to ask a question about the meaning of civilization.”

For full article, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/french-parliament-in-uproar-as-minister-accused-of-flirting-with-nazi-ideology/2012/02/07/gIQAFehcwQ_story.html

For article on Guénat’s faux-pas (in French), see http://www.lepoint.fr/politique/hierarchie-des-civilisations-claude-Guéant -persiste-et-signe-05-02-2012-1427704_20.php and http://www.lepoint.fr/politique/election-presidentielle-2012/valeur-des-civilisations-sarkozy-vole-au-secours-de-Guéant -06-02-2012-1428072_324.php

For article on Ségolène Royal’s campaign visit to Marseille, see http://www.libemarseille.fr/henry/2012/02/ségolère-royal-de-retour-en-campagne-à-marseille.html?xtor=EPR-450206

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