PARIS - French interior minister Claude Gueant has sparked a heated controversy by stating that not all civilizations had equal values, a statement believed to be targeting Muslims.
Many of our citizens of Muslim faith felt targeted by these statementsâ¦ and let us know about it, Mohamed Moussaoui, the president of the umbrella French Council of the Muslim Faith, said in a letter to Gueant and cited by France24.
He asked the minister to reassure Muslims that his speech was not referring to Muslim civilization, as was clearly portrayed by certain media.
Gueant, a close ally to President Nicolas Sarkozy, said Saturday that not all civilizations had equal values.
Contrary to what the left's relativist ideology says, for us, all civilisations are not of equal value, Gueant told a private meeting of right-wing law students in Paris.
Those which defend humanity seem to us to be more advanced than those that do not.
Those which defend liberty, equality and fraternity, seem to us superior to those which accept tyranny, the subservience of women, social and ethnic hatred, Gueant said.
The minister, who is known for his tough line on immigration, stood by his statements.
"I made common-sense remarks, self-evident comments to point out that not all civilizations are equal in light of our humanist values," he said.
This is not the first time Gueant made inflammatory remarks.
Last year, he told Le Monde daily that the French wanted their country to remain French.
The French, because of out of control immigration, sometimes feel like they are no longer in their home country.
In April last year, the minister also sparked a storm by saying that the number of Muslims in France posed a problem.
France is home to a sizable minority of six million Muslims, the largest in Europe.
French politicians accused Gueant of seeking to win far-right votes with these inflammatory remarks.
"It was premeditated, voluntary and intentional," Pierre Moscovici, the election campaign chief of Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande, told LCI TV.
It would be good if Sarkozy disavowed him ... but he won't do it because he is on campaign.
Sarkozy, who is trailing Hollande in opinion polls ahead of the April elections, defended his interior minister, describing the remarks as common sense.
"The interior minister said a civilization, a regime (or) a society that does not give the same place and rights to both men and women did not have the same values. It's common sense," he said in an interview with TV channel France 2.
Hollande, a social democrat tipped to win the election where Sarkozy is his main but as yet undeclared rival, tried to place himself above the bickering over Gueant's remarks.
"I don't want to divide the French people or encourage one-upmanship. The state's role at all levels is not to agitate, to provoke or fuel fears," he said.
Sarkozy is battling to catch up with Hollande in the polls, ahead of the two-round election on April 22 and May 6.
An LH2 poll for Yahoo had Hollande winning 34 percent of the vote in the first round with Sarkozy getting 25.5 percent and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen third with 15 percent.Le Pen has at times been snapping at Sarkozy's heels in opinion polls, raising the question of whether she might make it to a runoff against Hollande.