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French minister to Muslims: Speak properly

A junior French minister tells  young Muslims living in France they should dress properly, find a job and stop speaking slang.
/ Source: Reuters

A junior French minister has told young Muslims living in France they should dress properly, find a job and stop speaking slang.

Opposition politicians from the left denounced the comments by the minister for families, Nadine Morano, as racist.

The highly outspoken Morano, who is a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's inner circle, made the remarks on Monday evening in a small town in eastern France during a government-inspired debate on national identity.

"We are not putting young Muslims on trial. I respect their situation. What I want is for them to feel French because they are French," she said in a recording played on French radio.

"I want them to love France when they live here, to find work and not to speak in slang," she said, adding: "They shouldn't put their caps on back to front."

Stoking racial tensions?
The comments tapped into stereotypical perceptions of youths from tough suburbs on the fringes of France's big cities, many of whom are from an immigrant background.

However, back-to-front caps, baggy trousers and a distinctive form of slang known as "verlan," once associated with those suburbs, have long since spread to high schools around the country and to youths of all backgrounds.

Anti-racism groups and Socialist politicians accused Morano of stoking racial tensions and said the government should abandon its series of highly controversial national identity debates before they provoked a violent backlash.

"This is a political operation designed to pit French people against each another and to create a war of culture and identity," said Socialist parliamentarian Arnaud Montebourg.

The human rights group SOS Racisme urged Prime Minister Francois Fillon to intervene and bring his cabinet to order.

Morano's office said the minister's words had been taken out of context.

Debate rages on
Some five million Muslims live in France, the largest such community in Europe. Many of them are immigrants from former French colonies in North and West Africa.

Sarkozy's government has tightly linked the issues of immigration and integration and launched the national identity debate last month, playing on a theme that had served Sarkozy well during his successful 2007 election campaign.

Critics say the countrywide discussions will simply open a Pandora's box of prejudice and extremism.