President Nicolas Sarkozy, practically written-off in the French presidential election, is grasping at straws, and in the process, during an interview on France Info, he created an official classification of people in France, and maybe even in the whole entire world: Muslim by appearance.
He was responding to rightwing Marine Le Pen. She’d called Mohamed Merah—the mass murderer that has shaken up France—”the tip of the iceberg” in her anti-immigration rant. He tried to debunk her and sound reasonable, which shouldn’t have been too hard. “To say immigration equals Mohamed Merah, who was born in France, doesn’t make sense,” he said. And the idea that Merah embodied France’s “integration” problem was “absurd.” It would have been a perfect stopping point. Next topic. But no! Looking for words while his right hand was flying about, he noted with razor-sharp perception that two of the three paratroopers Merah had assassinated were “Muslim, at any rate by appearance.”
There it was, on video, to forever float around the internet. The uproar was immediate: one of the two Muslims by appearance was … a practicing Catholic (a Kabyle from Algeria).
All this after he’d proclaimed that the tragedy in Toulouse shouldn’t be made part of the campaign. When Marine le Pen and François Hollande made it part of the campaign, he issued two press releases criticizing them. Then, inevitably, he did the same thing, but not during on TV or before a gaggle of reporters, but in the privacy of the Elysée, in front of his computer, presumably: email spam. And not just to anyone, but to French expats living overseas.
Creepy perhaps but legal. The email even points out the applicable law. French citizens living overseas are encouraged to register with a consulate in their country of residence, and the consulates make these electronic lists available to candidates. Apparently, it doesn’t happen often. But Sarkozy is grasping at straws.
The email titled, “France is a great democracy that will never give in to any threat,” was addressed to “My Dear Friends” (screen shot) and bizarrely assumed that the French overseas didn’t have access to news, internet, or TV and needed to be updated. “The week we just lived through was particularly difficult,” it began. “An assassin wanted, according to his own words, ‘put France on its knees’ by killing three children, four soldiers, and a teacher.” It recounted the awesome things Sarkozy and his people did in response. “My dear friends, we only have one month left,” he begged at the end. “Help me build a strong France to make our ideas, values, and ideals triumph. I need you.” Signed, “With all my friendship.”
Very promising, this proximity of M. le President to his expats—particularly after he scared the bejesus out of them two weeks ago with his threat to hound them with a special expat tax. Maybe Sarkozy was hoping that, having no access to the internet or French news, his “Dear Friends” wouldn’t yet know about his special tax for them. Grasping at straws. But he had to do something. High fuel prices have become a drag, too.
And unemployment is pounding him. So he took it upon himself to announce the latest figures Monday morning—well before the official announcement in the afternoon—so that he could spin them before anyone else knew the dark details. And spin he did. It was the tenth month in a row of growing unemployment, and at 2.87 million people, the highest since October 1999. Unemployment and underemployment combined jumped to 4.28 million, the highest ever.
“An improvement of the situation with a tendentiously lower rise of the numbers of unemployed,” the spinmeister said inexplicably. And without breaking a sweat, he added that this “is a sign of an appreciable economic upturn.”
But the economy is expected to be flat in the first quarter. Job offers sagged 9.5% from a year ago. And the auto industry, a big employer, is in deep trouble.