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French minister says Muslims need good manners

Published on 16/12/2009
PARIS – Nadine Morano, junior minister for the family and social unity, said she wanted a young Muslim to "love France when he lives here, to find a job, not speak slang and not wear his cap back to front."

The Socialist opposition and anti-racism campaigners condemned her comments, made at a discussion Monday organised as part of a national debate on French identity which has been widely criticised as divisive.

Morano said her remarks had been "taken out of context."

"I was saying that with this caricature, and the stigmatisation that exists, I would advise them not only to wear their cap straight and not speak slang, but I explained also (they should) use the potential of their double culture," she said Tuesday.

Her comments on young Muslims referred to "verlan," French street slang formed by reversing the syllables of words.

Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said her comments were "very serious."

"That confirms the caricatured view that several members of the government have of the youth of this country, with improbable generalisations about young Muslims suspected of not looking for work," he told AFP.

Campaign group SOS Racisme described her words as "another blunder" in the debate, which has sharpened sensitivities over France’s Muslim majority — Europe’s biggest — and been cast as a government bid to win right-wing votes.

"They are part of a long series of racist and stigmatising comments made during the debates on national identity," the association said in a statement.

Morano’s defence of her comments was supported by Amed Bellal, a regional Muslim community leader who was at the debate. He told AFP Morano "absolutely did not stigmatise the Muslim religion."

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing government launched the national identity debate last month, inviting ordinary citizens to explain what it means to be French on an Internet forum and at town hall meetings across the country.

The initiative ignited controversy from the outset, with the left accusing Sarkozy of trying to woo far-right voters ahead of March regional elections by appealing to French pride and patriotism.