An anti-racism group in France has announced that is it taking legal action against a National Front mayor after he told journalists that being French means being “European, white, and Catholic”.
Robert Ménard, mayor of the southern French town of Béziers, has repeatedly made headlines for his nationalist rhetoric and tough stance on migrant crime.
Now he has hit the headlines again, telling French news channel LCI that being French means, “in the words of Charles De Gaulle, being European, white and Catholic”.
He was quoting from a 1959 speech by General de Gaulle, former President of France, on Algerian independence, in which he said:
“It is very good that there are yellow French, black French, brown French. They show that France is open to all races and has a universal vocation. But [it is good] on condition that they remain a small minority. Otherwise, France would no longer be France. We are still primarily a European people of the white race, Greek and Latin culture, and the Christian religion.
“Those who advocate integration have the brain of a hummingbird.
“Arabs are Arabs, the French are French. Do you think the French body politic can absorb ten million Muslims, who tomorrow will be twenty million, after tomorrow forty? If we integrated, if all the Arabs and Berbers of Algeria were considered French, would you prevent them [from settling] in France, where the standard of living is so much higher?
“My village would no longer be called Colombey-The-Two-Churches but Colombey-The-Two-Mosques.”
Despite clearly being an argument for measured, controlled immigration, anti-racist campaigners have reacted furiously to the comment.
Shortly after his appearance on LCI, The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) announced on Twitter that they had reported Ménard to the Prosecutor’s Office, accusing him of racist hate speech.
LICRA president Alain Jakubowicz said: “Quite simply, if shame could be measured, Ménard would [need a] yardstick.”
But Ménard, an experienced journalist and founder of Reporters Without Borders, is unrepentant, retaliating on Twitter by again quoting de Gaulle, adding: “Was de Gaulle a liar?”
Posting a longer defence of his comments on Facebook, he added:
“According to the media, I can only be a racist. I said that only Catholic whites could be French. Already subsidised anti-racism organisations are rubbing their hands at the mere thought of the damages they may illicit from me in the courts.
“But here’s the thing: I, of course, never said anything like that. I just recalled that the French were, mostly, and historically, ‘European, White, Catholics’.
“It is difficult, from a historical point of view, to challenge this assertion. But what does it matter for these ladies and gentlemen within the small media/political bubble? …
“It is true, my crime is great. Yes, I confess, I am fighting for my country, still predominantly white and Catholic today, long may it stay that way. I have nothing against minorities – on condition that they remain minorities – and I don’t dismiss the contribution many refugees have made to French culture.
“But I still think Catholicism and Islam do not have the same place in our history and therefore should not be, to the annoyance of our self-righteous citizens, placed on the same plane.
“Being French cannot be reduced to the colour of one’s skin or the God of our prayers. But France has a soul that I want to see preserved, protected, sanctified.”