Thursday, March 1, 2012

In a small village, in the heart of the French political landscape...

At the heart of the French presidential campaign, an event that could easily be defined as being of conflicting and controversial nature occurred between two French political figures. In early February 2012, only a few months away from the presidential elections and in the middle of intense political debates, Claude Guéant, the Minister of the Interior stated: “For us, all civilisations are not equal. Those who advocate humanity seem more advanced than those who deny it.” in front of a class full of students. How can such an intelligent figure teach young and gullible minds to assess a civilisation’s in terms of its value? Obviously, in 2012, it is unacceptable to talk about a civilisation’s “value” compared to other civilisations. But did this statement need what it got in return? In the French National Assembly, the Martinique Deputy Serge Letchimy compared Claude Guéant’s words to the Nazi ideology of some people being inferior to others that led to concentration and extermination camps. Ouch!
In this case, we can talk about a huge conflict. We could even say that we are talking about a crisis, a polemic. When Buchanan and Huczynski (2007) define conflict as a process that affects one or both parties, we can easily say that Guéant and Letchimy have reached a whole new level of conflict. Obviously the French media caught on fire, defending one or the other position, showing how appalling one or the other statement was and all politicians could talk about was who was going to get what punishment.
Both parties are expecting apologies that never came and instead, keep settling scores through the media. I have learnt, after many years of practicing conflict as well (on a lower level), that trying to cool things down and find a common ground usually works a bit better. Indeed, despite the appalling statement that Guéant made, we all know what he meant. I like to think that in 2012, nobody in their right minds can talk about a civilisation’s “value” and what it is worth in comparison to other civilisations. However, I think we can all agree that a country that downgrades women or children is going against universal rights. Why not just adjust his aim and correct his statement? One could argue that this pattern is not only radical in the way that both parties can’t seem to see a way of solving the conflict, but also completely counterproductive and dysfunctional.
But if we look at it from a closer distance, this polemic occurred during the presidential campaign, didn’t it? Could the fact that it seems unsolvable and holds the country’s focus actually be a diversion technique from the real debate? When involved in a conflict, we all have our ways of dealing with it. Some hide, some try to shout even louder, some of us are assertive and others try desperately to find a compromise. But in this case, the said “some” created a smaller conflict (which could have been solved quite quickly) to turn people away from the main issue. I knew conflict as a way to get something, to point out a dysfunction, to impose one’s opinion upon somebody, but as a diversion! Never too late to learn…


  1. I heard about that! It happened a while ago! However, I don't agree with you when you say that the statement is appalling. Maybe he did not use the right words and did not word his thoughts correctly, but when you think about it, some civilisations are inferior to others. Women are stoned to death when they commit adultery, people get their hands cut off if they steal an apple, little girls are not allowed to go to school... And this is only the beginning of a long list! So yes, some civilisations are worth less that ours on the scale of human rights. Maybe Claude Guéant should have worded it differently or kept his thoughts to himself if they are that shocking. But I think the idea behing the words is valid.

  2. Hi Alice,

    The statement is appalling, and so is the idea if it is worded in his mind like it was worded in his statement. Who is he to say that some civilisations are worth more than others? Moreover, what is actually a civilisation and how would you define it? Is it a whole country, a tribe, a region? I don't think anybody today should speak of a civilisation. It is too confusing, broad and not focused enough to make a point. In this case for example, who is Guéant talking about? Nobody can tell.

    There is one thing I cannot deny: like you, I don't agree with violence on women, children not being allowed to go to school and discriminating "laws" that, in some countries, go against the international human rights.
    But nobody should then assume that these people are worth less than us. Their values are different, yes, their practices are not acceptable in our country, yes, but they are not worth nothing. And it's not the point! I don't think anyone today would agree with these practices! My point was that such a statement is appalling and shocking! Especially when said it front of students. Is that what students in France are taught these days? How to be intolerant towards everything?
    You can disagree with a country's laws, embedded culture etc.. but don't expose it, and stating that they are worth nothing. And I agree, Claude Guéant should indeed have kept his mouth shut.

    1. Saying that Guéant should have kept his mouth shut goes against the freedom of speech, which, I think, is established in France.
      I don't think it is that "shocking" that somebody finally says out loud what the crowd thinks. Plus, I think I understand that France is not the most tolerant country towards foreigners: you banned the burka and directly attack the Muslim civilisation all the time. So ultimately, you do agree: some practices have to be banned, just like you banned the burqa in France.
      I think there should be international laws that prevent countries from doing what they want, such as killing women.

    2. Hi Alice,

      The freedom of speech is indeed effective in France. However, I personally think that this statement was not to be made in front of a class full of students. It is inappropriate and sad to advocate intolerance in front of ductile minds, the future of France.

      Moreover, unlike you, I don't think (or I don't want to think?) that the "crowd" agrees with Guéant's idea. I truly hope that the French do not see immigrants as threats and intruders that came to the country to mess up with the French people's rights.
      I would also like to explain that France does not attack the Muslim civilisation. The law was addressing the Muslim COMMUNITY in FRANCE. Not Muslims all around the world.

      Moreover, you are missing my point again. I don't necessarily think that covering women from top to toes is the right thing to do, but who am I to criticise the Muslim religion on their practices? Would it really be acceptable if I said that Islam is inferior to Catholicism before women wear the veil? Of course not, because it would be considered as racism. Which it is!!

      And yes, I do agree that in an ideal world, nobody would be discriminated against because of their gender, no woman would be forced to marry a man they don't want to marry, and no little girl would be deprived of going to school. But again, this does not give me the right to say that the countries in which that happens are worthless, or not equal.

      Finally, a law that would prevent countries from doing what they want can be linked to a dictatorship. And I don't think that this is the right way to go. When people don't believe in what you believe in, I don't think forcing your values on them will work.

  3. Hi Sarah,

    This is a very good piece! I completely agree with you in everything you say about Claude Guéant. I saw your comments on Evan's blog and I too am afraid of the right wing leaning towards the far right. I don't know if you have had a chance to check the results of the first round of the presidential elections last sunday, but the extreme right somehow managed to gather 20% of votes. That's 1/5 of the French population... All of this is alarming!
    However, I am not sure I agree with you theory that all this noise happened to create a diversion away from the real debate. I personnally think it is because the question of immigration and foreign policies haven't been addressed enough in any of the candidates' campaigns. Except of course from Marine Le Pen's one, who made sure to clearly express her views.
    What do you think?

    1. Hi Cyril and thank you for your comment.
      It is, as you said, alarming to see that such a huge amount of the French population shares the same views as Marine Le Pen. What is even more alarming is the percentage of very young adults my age chanting alongside her.
      Concerning the theory in my conclusion, I wanted to dig a bit deeper and not just focus on the words that were said. To be very honest, I don't know enough about each candidate's programme to voice a definite opinion. However, I see what you mean. The question of immigration in France is indeed a very controversial subject, which usually kicks the hornet's nest. It is possible that as it wasn't mentioned, explored and addressed enough during the campaign, ignorance won and so did Guéant's words.
      But I also believe that such a statement does not only have for origin a lack of information. The first round of the elections showed that those beliefs are slowly making their way into French citizens' mind. But I do think it is also the politicians' role to inform the population and fight the rise of racism and xenophobia in the country.