The Roma and burqa issues have tarnished the image of France as a welcoming and lovely country, but you had George W. Bush, so you can’t judge French people. However, everyone in France is not a potential Nazi and/or a Stalinist trying to ban foreigners and Muslims.

These laws have raised a huge controversy in France. According to left-wing politicians, these topics are used as a diversion by Nicolas Sarkozy not to deal with the true issues. According to right-wing politicians, these topics dealing with “safety” are a priority for French people and had to be solved by the government. As a journalism student trying to learn how to make opinion distinct from facts, I may refer to a poll published earlier this month, saying that safety was a priority for 26% of the polled people. But 74% of them talked about unemployment, 54% evoked retirement, 50% considered the quality of cure you can be provided in hospitals, and 47% feel concerned about purchasing power. I’m still wondering in which way these topics deal with safety, and not with immigration or religion, which don’t even appear among French people’s preoccupations.

The other day, I was listening to the radio, and the journalist was talking about the crisis going on in the US and the unemployment rate so close to 10%, which was alarming. Alar—what? Watchoo talkin’ about (I ♥ Gary Coleman)? That’s the normal rate for unemployment in France since the '70s. And then I remembered. I remembered that during his presidential campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy promised to decrease the unemployment rate to under 5%. Partly because of the economic crisis, he has not achieved his goal so far. That may explain why he is so concerned about the estimated 2,000 women wearing burqas in France (representing 0,003% of the population) and the 15,000 Roma living in France (representing 0,023% of the population).

Furthermore, Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has been involved in many scandalous affairs: public money wasted, a minister offering fiscal gifts to the wealthiest French woman, and nominations of people with uncertain skills just because of their acquaintances to government’s members. The media coverage was focused on these topics in June and early July.

At the end of this same month, in a speech in Grenoble, the President came back to the basics that made him so popular in 2007. He said he would show no mercy against offenders, either thieves or drug dealers, but also illegal immigrants such as Roma. Hence started the removal of Roma illegal camps in France. The common—and yet to be proven—belief is that living close to a Roma camp may threat the safety of your goods. By promoting the expulsion of Roma people, Nicolas Sarkozy wishes to convince a part of his voters that he has not forgotten about his big security mottos.

His speech also targeted the failure of the French integration system when it comes to immigrant minorities. Even if the law banning burqas in public spaces had been designed a long time before this speech, the 2,000 women wearing this clothing were concerned by this reference to integration.

As a laical society, there is no reference to religion in public spaces, buildings, and institutions in France. Contrary to the US, we do not back the freedom of religion principle, since our national history has been pretty messy with churches. Religion is highly private and is not usually displayed in public. Most of French people agree with the principle that women should not wear burqas, for it is considered to diminish the dignity of women, making them underclass citizens not worthy of showing their face to men. In that sense, the ban on burqas shall not be considered as an infringement to freedom of religion but as a tool to promote equality between genders.

Still, there is a controversy about the how. Left-wing politicians did not agree with the principle of a law that would only stigmatize women wearing burqas and make them outlaws. The politicians who wrote the bill rely on the “pedagogical phase” that will last for six months before the law is strictly applied. During this phase, police officers and Muslim leaders are supposed to talk to women who disrespect this law in order to make them change their decision.

The President has not openly declared if he will run again in 2012, but these laws look like signs that he will, while attempting to make people forget his economical promises.