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France is home to 5 million Muslims, but not a single Muslim member of parliament. So much for the success of France’s supposedly religion- and colour-blind republic.

Sarkozy’s controversial justice minister, Rachida Dati, is the first figure of Muslim origin to hold senior ministerial office in that country. She is young, female, of North African origin, and grew up in a poor housing estate in Burgundy, the second of 12 children of a Moroccan bricklayer and an illiterate Algerian mother. Educated at a Catholic school and a state lycée,
she used a series of part-time jobs – selling cosmetics door-to-door,
working in a supermarket and as a hospital nurse – to fund her way
through school and university, culminating in the prestigious HEC
business school.

Dati’s political views are often objectionable, but you have to admire her personal achievements.

Ben Hall has written an interesting profile of her in the FT. It concludes:

Azouz Begag, a former junior minister for equalities in the
centre-right government and son of Algerian immigrants, paid tribute to
her success: “She is what a lot of the kids on the estates want. The
boys want to be Zinédine Zidane and all the girls want to be Rachida
Dati." But it is totally misleading.”

However, he argues, she has
left her Muslim origins too far behind. “Her message is: I’m like you.
I am one of you. I like power. I like luxury. It works because the
majority of French people simply want to be wealthy and she embodies
that aspiration. As long as the political classes use tokens, who are
appointed rather than elected, who are conformist rather than
independent-minded personalities, there will not be elected politicians
from ethnic minorities.”

Ms Dati will have to prove she is more than a symbol if she is really to represent a new France.

Posted 08 Jun 2008 in Blog

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