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Visiting consul general wants better U.S.-French ties

BY SHANE ERSLAND | FEBRUARY 27, 2009 7:30 AM

How Americans perceive France’s religious conceptions is detrimental to good relations between the two countries, says Jean-Baptiste Main de Boissiere, the French consul general in Chicago.

Main de Boissiere addressed French-American relations and the manner in which European institutions are perceived in the U.S. as part of the UI’s 10th-annual Crossing Borders Convocation. The theme of this year’s lecture series is “Europe in the World: Identities, Networks, Challenges.”

The conference, at the Congregational United Church of Christ, 30 N. Clinton St., was the first event sponsored by the UI European Studies Group.

Main de Boissiere said he believes many Americans think France should be more leery of its various religious groups and have stricter views on global terrorism.

“The problems we have in France are related to social status,” Main de Boissiere said. “We have no problems related to religious issues.”

There is a high degree of tolerance for all religions in France, where 1 percent of the people are Jewish, and 6 percent are Muslim, Main de Boissiere said.

France has a separation of church and state code that meets the requests for all of the religions, and it has adopted tough laws regarding anti-Semitism.

UI Associate Professor Michel Laronde asked him to come to the UI after attending a speech Main de Boissiere gave at the University of Nebraska. Laronde, the head of European Studies, agreed with Main de Boissiere there is a misunderstanding in America that national-security issues are connected primarily to religious groups, specifically Muslims.

“To link terrorism to religion is easy,” Laronde said.

Main de Boissiere said restructuring the United Nations needs immediate attention. There should be a better representation for certain countries in the organization, such as Brazil, India, and African countries.

UI student Kaytlin Moeller, an International Studies major, said she agrees the U.N. needs reforming.

“The current structure is extremely flawed,” she said.

The election of Barack Obama was a strong symbol that America is promoting diversity, Main de Boissiere said, and French citizens support the new president.

“We have deep convictions about democracy and human rights,” Main de Boissiere said.

A CSA telephone poll conducted in October found 93 percent of French citizens support Obama.

The UI will continue the Crossing Borders Convocation with events today and Saturday.


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