French Interior Minister Claude Gueant, who also holds the immigration portfolio, caused political uproar on Saturday by claiming that not all civilizations are equal, with some more advanced than others.
“Contrary to what the left’s relativist ideology says, for us, all civilizations are not of equal value,” Gueant told a conference in the French parliament building, but closed to the media.
“Those which defend humanity seem to us to be more advanced than those that do not,” he said in his speech at a meeting organized by a right-wing students group.
“Those which defend liberty, equality and fraternity, seem to us superior to those which accept tyranny, the subservience of women, social and ethnic hatred,” he said in his speech, a copy of which was obtained by reporters.
He stressed the need to “protect our civilization.”
The minister’s comments provoked a torrent of criticism from the opposition and on the Internet, less than three months a head of a French presidential election.
The left denounced his speech as an attempt by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to woo the far-right National Front voters ahead of the presidential election.
The Young Socialist Movement condemned Gueant’s “xenophobic and racist” speech, while the minister’s entourage attempted to dismiss his comments as merely condemning those who practice repression and inequality.
On his Twitter account, Harlem Desir, the No. 2 in the French Socialist Party, criticized “the pitiful provocation from a minister reduced to a mouthpiece for the FN [far-right National Front party].”
The ruling UMP party is in “electoral and moral decline,” he added.
For her part, Cecile Duflot, national secretary of the French Green Party, wrote of a “return to three centuries ago. Contemptible.”
It is not the the first time Gueant has courted controversy.
Gueant has repeatedly linked immigration with crime in France and last month said the delinquency rate among immigrants was “two to three times higher” than the national average.
In April last year, he said an increase in the number of Muslim faithful in France posed a “problem”.
He also said then that he wants to reduce the number of legal immigrants entering France, including those coming to work legally or join their families.
His latest controversial comments come as the anti-immigration National Front’s presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is credited with 20 percent support in the opinion polls, a figure which is sounding alarm bells throughout the French political establishment and beyond.
Sarkozy is trailing in the opinion polls to Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande.