Posted by: sean | March 26, 2007

The things Nicolas Sarkozy doesn’t know

I’ve recently remarked that ignorance about the Middle East and Islam is a bipartisan affair in the US. But it this ignorance isn’t, of course, limited to Americans.

Marianne brings it to our attention that Nicolas Sarkozy, possibly the next president of France and the current Minister of the Interior, doesn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shia. Nor can he tell us which sect al-Qaida belongs to:

“Al-Qaida, are they Shia or Sunni?” This is the question with which Jean-Jacques Bourdin amused himself by trapping his guest this morning on RMC, none other than Nicolas Sarkozy. “We cannot qualify al-Qaida like that!” the Minister of the Interior defended himself before kicking the ball out of bounds. Faced with the insistence of the host, he even dug himself in even deeper, protesting that one mustn’t reduce the debate to the membership of “an ethnicity.” A Pity: these two movements are not ethnicities but branches of Islam. … When will a test of Trivial Pursuit be necessary to qualify for the second round of presidential elections?

The whole exchange is available for you to listen to here. As usual, Sarkozy comes off as arrogant and pedantic, even when he’s demonstrably wrong. He stresses that one can’t “reduce al-Qaida to an ethnicity” (sic), and tries to back himself up by bringing up the GSPC and remarking that the Algerian group had recently joined al-Qaida. Of course, if Sarkozy understood the groups he’s talking down to us about, he’d know that the Algerian Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat, like the rest of al-Qaida, is virulently Sunni.

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