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The Endlessly Compelling Sarkozy

If you are looking for an interesting glimpse into the character of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, you could do a lot worse than Saturday's New York Times story on the teaching of the Holocaust in French schools:

President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

“Nothing is more moving, for a child, than the story of a child his own age, who has the same games, the same joys and the same hopes as he, but who, in the dawn of the 1940s, had the bad fortune to be defined as a Jew,” Mr. Sarkozy said at the end of a dinner speech to France’s Jewish community on Wednesday night. He added that every French child should be “entrusted with the memory of a French child-victim of the Holocaust.”

This seems reasonable, although one wonders why students are only learning about the fates of French children. Still, this is another well-intentioned Sarkozy initiative that appears to have rubbed people the wrong way. Maybe that's because in announcing his plans he makes comments like this:

Adding to the national fracas over the announcement, Mr. Sarkozy wrapped his plan in the cloak of religion, placing blame for the wars and violence of the last century on an “absence of God” and calling the Nazi belief in a hierarchy of races “radically incompatible with Judeo-Christian monotheism.”

Er, okay. And:

In Saudi Arabia last month, he infused his speech with more than a dozen references to God, who, he said, “liberates” man. 

I'm sure the liberated Saudi Arabian women in the audience were appreciative of these remarks, assuming they were allowed to watch the speech. Finally:

“Every day the president throws out a new unhappy idea with no coherence,” said Pascal Bruckner, the philosopher. “But this last one is truly obscene, the very opposite of spirituality. Let’s judge it for what it is: a crazy proposal of the president, not the word of the Gospel.”

 If nothing else, Sarkozy has sure made French politics fascinating.

--Isaac Chotiner