World Bulletin / News Desk
A video circulating on the Internet gives a clue what the French government understands from "integration of Muslims" into the country.
France's interior minister Brice Hortefeux faced calls for his resignation on Friday after being caught on camera making comments on integration of Muslims.
Hortefeux is the top law enforcement official and a former immigration minister in a country where tensions between police and minority youths occasionally erupt into violence.
In the video, posted on the Web site of the newspaper Le Monde, Hortefeux was posing for a photo with a young Arab man.
Voices in the primarily white crowd talk of "integration", one woman says "he's our little Arab." Hortefeux answered: "There always has to be one. When there's one, it's O.K. It's when there are a lot of them that there are problems."
As outrage greeted the video clip on the internet Brice Hortefeux claimed that critics had misinterpreted "his quip": "When there's one that's all right. It's when there a lot of them that there are problems."
He insisted that he had not been talking about Arabs, as many had assumed, but about Auvergnats — people from the Auvergne region of central France.
His defence however failed to calm a storm which was threatening to inflict political damage on President Sarkozy, his mentor and friend. "The question is not whether he should resign or not, but what he is still doing in the government," Benoit Hamon, a spokesman for the opposition Socialist Party, said.
"Eating pork and drinking alcohol"
The incident happened at a summer congress of the ruling centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) in Seignosse, southwest France, last weekend. Hortefeux is seen in the video posing for a photograph alongside Amine Benalia-Brouch, a member of UMP whose father is Algerian and mother Portuguese.
An unidentified woman says, apparently in reference to Benalia-Brouch's Muslim background: "He eats pork and he drinks beer." Eating pork and drinking alcohol are forbidden in Islam.
Hortefeux, 51, cuts in amid laughter as a group of party activists look on: "He doesn't fit the prototype at all. Not at all. We always need one. When there's one, that's all right. It's when there a lot of them that there are problems."
The comment went unnoticed until the video was sent to Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, which posted it on its website last night.
Hortefeux, who has been in his job for only three months, tried to ride out the storm. He denounced a "vain and ridiculous attempt to create a controversy" and ordered his ministry to send out a statement saying: "Not a single word by Brice Hortefeux made reference to a supposed ethnic origin of a young activist."
More interesting is that Benalia-Brouch, 22, who said: "I am Arab but he completely respected me, it wasn't at all out of place. And I do not consider that it was a blunder."
However, the rights groups slammed the comment, according to reports.
Activist group SOS Support for Illegal Immigrants said a top court should look into the remarks, accusing him of "racial hatred."
An umbrella group of black associations in France, CRAN, said it was "shocked by these unacceptable comments."
Gilbert Roger, the Socialist mayor of Bondy, a Paris suburb where police have clashed with youths of immigrant background, said Hortefeux "is so disconnected from reality that he is surprised that there is diversity within his own party."
Racial discrimination against minorities sparked riots led by black and north African young men around France in 2005.
Last Mod: 13 Eylül 2009, 14:50