Le Pen wrangles with Muslim intellectual in rare Paris debate

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France's veteran far-right leader and and Europe's best known Muslim intellectual wrangled over whether immigrant children should adopt French names

   PARIS, January 15, 2008  - A scion of France's veteran far-right leader
and and Europe's best known Muslim intellectual wrangled over whether
immigrant children should adopt French names and other cures for suburban
unrest at a rare left-right clash in Paris on Monday.
   Marine Le Pen, daughter of National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, and
Oxford University academic Tariq Ramadan, ripped into each other's political
beliefs in what many supporters of the two said before the event would be a
'debate with the devil'.
   Officially, the event, organised by the Kitson, a private debating forum,
was completely off the record.
   But it was no surprise to the restricted audience to hear one calling for
immigrant youths to adopt French names and learn to speak French properly if
they wanted to boost their chances of getting work and acceptance.
   It was no shock for the other to declare that immigration is now
unavoidable for Europe's economic future and that it is for European
governments to change their attitudes and policies to make sure immigrant
communities get a fair share of work and housing.
   Voices were raised. Each accused the other of deforming his or her views.
Virtually their only area of agreement was in opposing controversial DNA tests
for the families of new migrants proposed by the Sarkozy government. "Useless
and idiotic," said one. "A dangerous precedent," added the other.
   Le Pen came away from the event saying she was "disappointed" at her
rival's discourse. Ramadan said he had faced more of a challenge trying to
counter Nicolas Sarkozy before the mainstream right winger became French
   "I thought he was a brilliant debater. I found he was just very extreme
left wing," Le Pen told AFP afterwards, while acknowledging she had proposed
measures that would anger immigrant communities.
   "You can't be assimilated if you don't speak the language properly or
follow the dress and social codes," said Le Pen, criticising the mainly
immigrant youths in poor suburbs who were again at the centre of unrest late
last year.
   "It was difficult for him to say we are hypocrites. We are against
immigration and we do not hide the fact that we are defenders of the nation,"
added Le Pen, a rising star of the far-right at a time when the National Front
has seen a slump in its popularity and is being forced to sell its Paris
   Ramadan, who made headlines when he was banned from entering the United
States in 2006, said: "It is important to counter her views. What she said
tonight is becoming mainstream. Governments are using these theses, we have to
get to the source of them."
   While Le Pen said that France has about three million unemployed, Ramadan
maintained his case that "those three million are not going to do the jobs of
the immigrants" which are generally in more low-paid work.
   Most of the audience came away with the impression that neither had won the
   "It was an exchange of the anathema," said Antoine di Zazzo, an
   Raphaela Kitson-Pantano, who moderated the debate, said "they both came
here with their opinions and they both went home thinking the same. The
audience won because they may have changed their views."

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