The French are practiced hands at scandals, and there’s a fine one running at the moment. Hard to disentangle, it seems to begin with Madame Liliane Bettencourt, aged 87. She’s inherited L’Oréal cosmetics, and a fortune of about sixteen billion euros makes her one of the richest women in Europe. She’s given away vast sums to unlikely people, because in the opinion of her daughter, she has dementia. One of those she’s favoured is Eric Woerth, the Labour Minister in Sarkozy’s government and treasurer of Sarkozy’s political party. The old lady’s butler became suspicious of Woerth, and secretly taped the fellow’s conversations with his employer. (Agatha Christie, where are you?) The two talked about money, cash, secret Swiss accounts, a yacht, oh, and the Jews. An investigation has cleared Woerth of allegations that he protected Madame Bettencourt from a tax inquiry, but he has had to resign as party treasurer. President Sarkozy went on television to deny that Madame Bettencourt illegally funded him or his party; lies are flying around just to block the reforms he proposes but never quite gets round to carrying out. He put the rhetorical question to the camera, “Can you see me collecting envelopes?” To which the nation is roaring the answer, Easily!
A counterpoint to this is the running saga of Islamic face veils. Everyone in the new Europe has to learn to distinguish the hijab from the burqa and the niqab. Sarkozy let it be known that France is a secular republic, and for women to hide their face behind a veil goes against the republic’s dearest values. Deputies in the Assembly have voted almost unanimously to ban Islamic face veils, 335 votes for the proposition, just one against. Belgium has already voted to do this, and Spain and Italy are about to vote on it too. Actually, only about 2,000 women are thought to wear the full veil in France. Under the law, police will have to stop veiled women in the street, and fine them 150 euros and order them to attend citizenship classes. There’s a good deal of roaring about that, too. Muslim women, supported by the Left, are insisting that the state has no business decreeing what women wear. They are also saying that it will make women’s plight worse, because now the males in charge will lock away all females. Anyhow, the policing will prove impossible, and if the law passes the next hurdles of the Senate and the Constitutional Council, it will surely fail in the European Court of Human Rights, which is the home-grown version of sharia when it comes to tenderness for Muslims.
By the way, unlike France and the issue of veiling, England is doing its best to make Muslims feel at home. A Yorkshire council has agreed to install Turkish lavatories in its shopping malls — those are the kind for squatting over a porcelain hole in the ground rather than sitting on a pedestal. Mark Steyn, are you there?