Sarko gets religion

In addition to “Anglo-Saxon” economic policies and a tabloid-baiting personal life, “Sarko the American,” as the French president is somewhat derisively known, has adopted another habit of U.S. politicians: the frequent use of religious rhetoric in his speeches. In Saudi Arabia the day before, Mr. Sarkozy infused a speech with more than a dozen references ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
597038_sarkopope_05.jpg
597038_sarkopope_05.jpg

In addition to "Anglo-Saxon" economic policies and a tabloid-baiting personal life, "Sarko the American," as the French president is somewhat derisively known, has adopted another habit of U.S. politicians: the frequent use of religious rhetoric in his speeches.

In Saudi Arabia the day before, Mr. Sarkozy infused a speech with more than a dozen references to God, a very un-French thing to do, because France prides itself on its strict separation of church and state.

Praising Saudi Arabia for its strong religious base, Mr. Sarkozy referred to God, "who does not enslave man, but liberates him, God who is the rampart against unbridled pride and the folly of men."

In addition to “Anglo-Saxon” economic policies and a tabloid-baiting personal life, “Sarko the American,” as the French president is somewhat derisively known, has adopted another habit of U.S. politicians: the frequent use of religious rhetoric in his speeches.

In Saudi Arabia the day before, Mr. Sarkozy infused a speech with more than a dozen references to God, a very un-French thing to do, because France prides itself on its strict separation of church and state.

Praising Saudi Arabia for its strong religious base, Mr. Sarkozy referred to God, “who does not enslave man, but liberates him, God who is the rampart against unbridled pride and the folly of men.”

Sarkozy also praised his Saudi hosts as leaders who “appeal to the basic values of Islam to combat the fundamentalism that negates them.” From an American president, such remarks would probably be viewed as mere politeness, but Sarkozy’s praise for the Muslim theocracy has provoked outrage from his political opponents. Socialist Party chairman François Hollande, (who happens to be the ex-“civil partner” of Sarkozy’s election rival Ségolène Royal) has accused Sarkozy of cynically “making religion an instrument for the promotion of French products.” It may have worked. Sarkozy left Saudi Arabia with a new energy deal.

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

This isn’t the first time Sarkozy has pushed the limits of France’s strict laïcité policy on separation of church and state. In a December visit to the Vatican, he stressed the need to “accept the Christian roots of France… while defending secularism.” In response, Le Monde ran a cartoon featuring Sarkozy dressed as a bishop and George Bush remarking to the Pope, “I think this guy is stealing my job.”

Bush shouldn’t worry. Despite the French grumbling, Sarkozy still has a long way to go before he matches the religious rhetoric of even the most liberal American politicians. The role of Christian leader would also be a tough sell for a twice-divorced “cultural Catholic” living in sin with a former supermodel. Then again, maybe he and Rudy should compare notes.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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