One of the few times Nicolas Sarkozy really spoke like a French patriot was when he visited Rome last December, met the Pope, and was made honorary canon of Saint John Lateran. The speech he delivered there was an anomaly for Sarkozy, who customarily stresses intermingling of peoples, integration, and his pet project: the Islam of France.
Sarkozy told the Pope:
It is in the interests of the Republic that there exist also a moral reflection inspired by religious convictions. First because secular morality ["morale laïque"] always runs the risk of wearing itself out or changing into fanaticism when it isn't backed up by hope that aspires to the infinite. And then because morality stripped of any ties to transcendence is more exposed to historic contingencies and eventually to facileness.
The man who wrote the Rome speech, Henri Guaino has this to say to those angered or troubled by the Christian message that permeated this very uncharacteristic address:
"What is this world in which you can no longer say the truth, no longer look history squarely in the face? If you are French, and if you recognize yourself in France, France has Christian roots and that has nothing to do with "laïcité" [the 1905 French law separating Church and State]. The history of France, the culture of France, French civilization, like European civilization itself, all have Christian roots. [...] It is as if you were blocking out eight centuries of French monarchy. It isn't being a monarchist to say that France was made by the Capetians."
E-deo, the website that posted the above quote, adds this:
Very true. But it has been so pounded into people that France began in 1789, that it's good to hear.
Browsing through the French websites I've seen numerous comments by bloggers and readers who are shocked, angered, worried, and sometimes enraged by the Rome speech, and its repercussions, the main one being that the issue of "laïcité" is once again out in the open to be debated. These people are all either leftists, or so allergic to religion that any mention of the word sends them into a tailspin.
One person so affected is Jean-Michel Quillardet, the grand master of the Grand Orient of France (GOF), considered to be the "first masonic lodge of France" with 50,000 members. The GOF recently expressed its concern in a communiqué, reproaching Nicolas Sarkozy for his "willingness to present religion as being a constituent element of political and citizen identity, an idea that could seriously impair the French republican example."
Quillardet was interviewed by the left-leaning daily Libération:
What do you find shocking about Nicolas Sarkozy's remarks?
This concept of "positive laïcité" that says that religions are to be considered as an advantage and that we must seek a dialogue with them and thus open a troubling breach in the secular republican pact. It's the first time that a French president has advocated this new view of the relationship between the State and religion.
In a society as materialistic as ours, don't people have a need for meaning that has to be taken into account?
The quest for meaning does not necessarily involve religion. It shocks me when Nicolas Sarkozy says that "laic morality always runs the risk of wearing itself out or of changing into fanaticism when it is not associated with an aspiration that satisfies the aspiration for the infinite." Behind those words, there is a very American ideology.
American??? The quest for meaning, for the infinite is the essence of Christianity and other religions as well, but it is not specifically American. It's just that America has not lost the last shred of belief in a higher being, while Quillardet clearly has.
The positions of Sarkozy are well-known, he had expressed them in his book The Republic, Religions and Hope (published in 2004)...
During the presidential campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy distanced himself more from talk about modifying the 1905 law on separation of Church and State and from the Machelon Report. But now, we have the feeling that something is in the works.
The Machelon Report, commissioned by Interior Minister Sarkozy, recommended modifying the 1905 law to accommodate the demands of the Muslims of France for more mosques. This is indeed shocking, and the Grand Orient is right to be concerned. But their concern is more over Christianity than Islam, the primary beneficiary of Machelon, as we'll see:
What makes you think so?
Michèle Alliot-Marie [the French Minister of the Interior] met with us on December 3. She told us that in the Machelon Report, there are "several interesting ideas." She is wondering if it might be possible to turn religious associations, which cannot receive a government subsidy, into cultural associations, which can. Jean-Pierre Raffarin also stated in an interview with Le Figaro that "the 1905 law will have to be completed." We have requested a meeting with the president. We'll see if he agrees to see us.
You are opposed to any modification in the 1905 law, but then, how can we help the Muslims catch up with their long-standing need for houses of worship?
The first two articles: "The State neither recognizes nor subsidizes any religion" and "The exercise of religion is free", are not subject to modification. But we are not hostile to long-term leases, nor to the creation of the Foundation for Charitable Works for Islam.
He contradicts his originally premise according to which there must be total separation of Church and State, when he approves of long-term leases and Charitable Foundations that receive money from foreign countries to build mosques in France. While it may be difficult to prove intent, these two devices are clever tricks of the French government to get around the 1905 law, and to allow money to be funneled into the country for the building of mosques that may one-day become the property of the French State, something that is unconstitutional.
In the end, the only thing that shocked Jean-Michel Quillardet was the sight of the French president with the Pope. He certainly wasn't shocked by the sight of the president attending the dinner at the end of the Ramadan fast with Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris mosque.
The article from Libération closes:
Apart from the Grand Orient of France, few groups rebelled against the president's remarks...
François Bayrou [who was defeated in the first round of the presidential election last May] and François Hollande [chairman of the French Socialist Party] both protested, the former stating that the concept of positive laïcité threatens the conception of republican "laïcité" and favors a return to religion as the "opiate of the people."
Again, Bayrou and Hollande are talking about Christianity. Neither man has shown any sign of opposition to Islam.
My best guess is that Nicolas Sarkozy wants to reopen the debate on religion and "laïcité", not to help the Catholics of France, but only to smooth the way for the further Islamization. If such a debate really materializes it will be interesting to see if the Catholics can turn it somehow to their advantage.