Is Brigitte Bardot Bashing Islam?

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Brigitte Bardot in Only for Love

She may be better remembered as the revolutionary sex kitten of 1960s French cinema, but these days Brigitte Bardot is better known as a standard-bearer of the anti-immigrant wing of France's political spectrum. Bardot went on trial Tuesday charged with "inciting racial hatred," and in view of her four previous convictions on similar charges, prosecutors sought exceptionally stiff penalties of $22,000 and a two-month suspended sentence.

"I'm a bit tired of trying Madame Bardot," admitted assistant prosecutor Anne de Fonette, as she urged the court to impose "the most striking and remarkable" punishment in the case. A verdict is expected on June 3.

The current charge against Bardot was lodged by the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP), citing a letter Bardot wrote to French officials in 2004 in which she alluded to Muslims as "this population that leads us around by the nose, [and] which destroys our country." The former actress-turned-animal rights crusader had written that letter to protest the ritual slaughter of sheep during the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Kabir. Her missive, whose contents were later leaked to the media, had been sent to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, whose rising popularity was based in part on his hard line on immigration and tough stand against troublesome youths from immigrant backgrounds.

Lawyers for the 73-year-old Bardot, who did not attend the trial, argued the offending sections of the letter had been taken out of the context of her militant defense of animal rights over the years, a cause in support of which she has raised and spent millions of dollars. Her work in the area has been hailed by French political leaders and organizations around the world, although more recently French courts have interpreted some of her statements as Islamophobia.

Bardot's defense Tuesday was that her passionate denunciation of the ritual slaughter of Eid-al-Kabir had been misinterpreted as an attack on Islam in France. A similar defense had failed to spare her from conviction in four earlier trials. In 1997, for example, Bardot was first convicted on the charge of "inciting racial hatred" for her open letter to French daily Le Figaro, complaining of "foreign over-population", mostly by Muslim families.

The following year she was convicted anew for decrying the loss of French identity and tradition due to the multiplication of mosques "while our church bells fall silent for want of priests." Darkening Bardot's public image in both cases was her marriage to an active supporter and political ally of French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

In 2000, Bardot was again convicted — this time for comments in her book Pluto's Square, whose chapter "Open Letter to My Lost France" grieved for " country, France, my homeland, my land is again invaded by an overpopulation of foreigners, especially Muslims." And in 2004, another Bardot book, A Cry In the Silence, again took up the question of immigration and Islam — ultimately running afoul of anti-racism laws by generally associating Islam with the 9/11 terror attacks, and denouncing the "Islamization of France" by people she described as "invaders".

The prosecution has called for the harshest possible punishment in the hope of getting through to Bardot the seriousness of her transgressions of French law. MRAP implored the judge to "take note of this refusal by (Bardot) to learn the lessons of previous convictions and cease using racist language". The court will make its decision by June, although the repeat convictions on similar charges suggest that Bardot has not exactly been chastened by previous court rulings.