Jean-François Copé said last night that school cafeterias in France should be prohibited from serving couscous.
In an interview with BFM TV, the leader of the center-right UMP party claimed that the popular North African food is a "gateway to terrorism" and not suitable for children.
"This is an issue of public security," he explained. "Everywhere you go in France we have schools serving young children foods — such as couscous and merguez — that are associated with dangerous behaviors such as terrorism.
"These foods are delicious and they seduce our children into entering the Muslim lifestyle. It starts with spicy lamb sausage, but soon they are listening to Muslim music, reading the Koran and traveling to Mali for jihadi training.
"If we don't stop this cancer now, it will destroy the security and cultural integrity of our nation. What's wrong with traditional French dishes like quiche lorraine, raclette or crêpes? No one ever bombed a building after eating a crêpe."
La Graine et Le Pistolet
Copé's audacious proposal on couscous today is another example of how he is shifting his once centrist party further to the right to meet the challenge of the far-right Front National (FN).
Founded by convicted holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972, the FN sat on the margins of French politics for decades before achieving electoral success in recent years with a xenophobic, traditionalist platform.
Under the leadership of Le Pen's daughter Marine since 2011, the party has attempted to move further into the mainstream though a policy of dédiabolisation (de-demonization). It has won several crucial by-elections and is leading the polls for next spring's European elections.
The UMP is divided over its response to the far right's rise, with some arguing for an aggressive move to poach FN voters with anti-immigrant, nativist policies while others are calling for restraint. As party leader, Copé has pursued the former strategy and is particularly noted for breaking with the longstanding tradition of automatically backing the non-FN candidate in runoff elections.
However, it appears that Copé's comments today went too far even for the notoriously bombastic Front. In a statement posted on the group's official Tumblr, Marine Le Pen distanced herself from his suggestion.
"The Front National strongly believes in defending the values of French culture," the statement reads. "However, couscous is a harmless food product and has now become an important part of French cuisine. Jean-Fançois Copé should be ashamed of himself for this kind of scaremongering and xenophobia."