France’s Sarkozy Backs Beleaguered Finkielkraut over Muslim Riot Comments

Daniel Ben Simon, Haaretz (Jerusalem), Dec. 6, 2005

The storm aroused by French-Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut refuses to subside. On Sunday, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy threw his full weight behind the beleaguered philosopher, who has been forced to remain cloistered at home following the sharp reactions to an interview he gave to Haaretz.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Sarkozy said: “Monsieur Finkielkraut is an intellectual who brings honor and pride to French wisdom . . . If there is so much criticism of him, it might be because he says things that are correct.”

The minister was asked about Finkielkraut because several reporters saw similarities between the conservative views the philosopher expressed about the recent riots in France and the tough stance the minister took in dealing with the agitators who took to the street night after night.

The liberal weekly Nouvel Observateur devoted its cover story to what it called “the new neo-reactionaries.” Alongside Finkielkraut’s picture on the cover was a title stating that Finkielkraut and his colleagues had worsened the social chasms in the country.

Others mentioned as supporters of similar ideas were Sarkozy, philosopher Andre Gluksman and historian Pierre-Andre Taguieff (who coined the phrase Judeophobia). They are described as belonging to a right-wing wave that is now prominent in France.

Sarkozy appeared ready to take on the media. He had been following the attacks on Finkielkraut for two weeks and was waiting for a suitable opportunity. “What do you want of him?” he asked the media representatives. “M. Finkielkraut does not consider himself obliged to follow the monolithic thinking of many intellectuals, which led to Le Pen winning 24 percent in the elections. The philosophers who frequent the salons and live between Cafe de Flor and Boulevard St. Germain suddenly find that France no longer bears a resemblance to them.”

This is an unprecedented attack on the left wing by the very person who is seen by many French as being the only one capable of preventing the disintegration of the republic. The cafes and bistros of Boulevard St. Germain and the narrow alleyways of St. Germain-des-Pres were traditionally frequented by members of the left, led by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who would take their morning coffee and read the newspapers there. When the socialists came to power under Francois Mitterand in 1981, the celebrations there were legendary. But of late, the area has lost some of its left-wing color.

While Sarkozy has won popular support for his stronghanded policies, he has been criticized in the media for his autocratic manner and his lack of sympathy for the social causes behind the rioters’ behavior. Finkielkraut appeared to be mouthing his words.

Finkielkraut’s apologies printed in Le Monde, a few days after the Haaretz interview, disappointed many. His supporters felt he had retracted his words for fear of a media boycott, as had happened to others. As a result of his apologies, Finkielkraut was able to maintain his radio programs on the prestigious France Culture channel and the Jewish radio channel and even increased his audience.

The weekly Le Point also devoted a four-page report to the Finkielkraut affair this week. While the interviewees stressed his intellectual acumen, they almost all felt Finkielkraut had slipped up by mentioning the ethnic identity of the rioters—he had described them as blacks, Arabs and Muslims.

Nevertheless, to date, all the organizations and bodies that threatened to sue him for racism have changed their minds.

The trials of the rioters, however, will begin shortly. There are 785 detainees, of whom 83 are illegal residents. Seven will be deported in the next few days.

“They are on their way out,” Sarkozy told the reporters.

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