Guéant on Sunday stood by his statement, telling a radio interviewer that
“some people on the left continue to take phrases out of context, thus depriving democratic debate of its dignity”.
And Defence Minister Gérard Longuet sprung to his defence, criticising “relativism that says that everything is of equal value”.
Earlier former Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal claimed the interior minister had made a “deliberate mistake” in a bid to attract support from the far right.
“These are dangerous, obscurantist remarks,” she said, “because behind the clash of civilisations there is war.”
The Socialist Party’s youth wing, the MJS, accused Guéant of creating hierarchies of humanity, which would lead to “a real cultural racism”.
The minister made the remarks at a closed meeting with 300 members of a hard-right students’ group, the Union nationale inter-universitaire (Uni), but they were leaked on the website of a journalism school.
"We have to defend our civilisation," Guéant told the activists. "Contrary to left-wing relativist ideology for us all civilisations are not equal. Those that defend humanity seem to us more advanced than those that deny it. Those that defend liberty, equality and fraternity seem to us superior to those that accept tyranny, lesser rights for women and ethnic or social hatred.”
As interior minister, Guéant has established a reputation as a hard-line right-winger.
He has implemented quotas for deportations of illegal immigrants, tried to limit the number of jobs for foreign graduates and declared that the growth of the number of Muslims in France is a “problem”.
With a presidential election coming up in April, the left accuses President Nicolas Sarkozy’s allies of making a pitch for far-right votes by flirting with Islamophobia and racism.
An opinion poll in Sunday’s Journal du Dimanche purported to show that Sarkozy would be on an equal footing with Socialist candidate François Hollande in the first round of voting if Front National candidate Marine le Pen fails to get the 500 mayors’ signatures she needs to appear on the ballot paper.