France has a “problem with Islam” and there is “too much” unwanted immigration, François Hollande has acknowledged in an explosive new book in which the Socialist president controversially claims that “the veiled woman of today” will tomorrow become France’s national icon, Marianne.
Over the course of 61 sit-down interviews and Elysée dinners with two investigative journalists, the French leader issues a string of extraordinarily unguarded comments on everything from Islam, football, “cowardly” judges, Nicolas Sarkozy “the little De Gaulle” and his tangled relationships with women.
Perhaps the most controversial passages are on immigration and Islam, in which Mr Hollande tells authors Gérard David and Fabrice Lhomme: “I there think there are too many arrivals, of immigration that shouldn’t be there.”
In another blunt comment, Mr Hollande says: “The fact that there is a problem [in France] with Islam is true. Nobody doubts that.”
“It’s not Islam itself that poses a problem for being a religion that dangerous for the Republic but because it wants to assert itself as a religion inside the French Republic,” he tells the authors.
Asked about the French Right’s obsession with national identity and the Muslim veil, Mr Hollande controversially responds: “The veiled woman of today will become France’s Marianne [national icon] of tomorrow.”
The ambiguous comments were interpreted by some on the Right as Hollande suggesting that the national symbol may become a woman in a burka, but Mr Hollande said that he meant he wanted to see Muslim women “free” from the veil.
“If we manage to provide the right conditions for her to flourish she will free herself from her veil and become French, while still remaining a believer if she wants to be, capable of carrying forth an ideal,” he says.
“Ultimately, what bet are we making? It is that this woman will prefer freedom to slavery, that the veil can be a form of protection for her but that tomorrow she won’t need it to feel reassurance about her presence in society.”
The comment sparked an angry reaction from Laurent Wauquiez, interim president of the opposition centre-Right Republicans party, who accused Mr Hollande of being “willing to barter this symbol of the French Republic for political Islam.”
“This is taking as a given the idea of selling off on the cheap the most powerful symbols of the French Republic,” he said.