Call for National Drive to Promote Mainstream Islam in FranceAugust 4, 2016 in France
Dozens of prominent French Muslims and Prime Minister Manuel Valls have called for a national drive to promote mainstream Islam in France and to combat the radicalization of young Muslims.
Forty-one prominent Muslims, along with Mr Valls, issued separate appeals in the Journal du Dimanche (JDD) newspaper. The move comes nearly a week after the murder of a priest by Islamist extremists, which shocked the country. Prominent Muslims and Mr Valls have stated that a French Muslim foundation, which was set up in 2005, must be relaunched. In his appeal in JDD, Mr Valls, a Socialist, stated that the French state must avoid “any paternalism” towards Islam, but “there is an urgent need to help Islam in France to rid itself of those who are undermining it from the inside,” adding, “to do that, we have a duty to build a real pact with Islam in France, and give the foundation a central role.” While he did not provide details of what the foundation’s role would be, or how it would interact with mosques, he warned that “if Islam doesn’t help the Republic to fight those who challenge public freedoms, it will get harder for the Republic to guarantee this freedom of worship.” Separately, 41 prominent French Muslims issued a joint statement in JDD, stating, “we must speak up now because Islam has become a public issue and the current situation is intolerable.” Amongst the signatories were former ministerial advisers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, scientists and academics. They deplored the spate of attacks by jihadists in France, including those in Paris last year and most recently the attack in Nice and the murder of an elderly priest in a church in a suburb of Rouen. They further stated, “we Muslims were silent before because we understood that in France religion is a private matter,” a reference to the French state’s strict secular policy.” They added that “a Foundation for Islam in France was set up more than 10 years ago and now it is time to reactivate it…It has never worked properly…but now it should be empowered to collect donations.” They also called for “a cultural battle against radical Islamism among the youth,” stating that it should include transparent funding of mosques, proper training and salaries for imams and theological work. In 2004, the French government stated that the country’s imams must all learn French and widen their education, arguing that a majority of them were from outside France.
Mr Valls’s stance however has drawn some criticism. Two politicians in the right-wing opposition party The Republicans – Eric Ciotti and Christian Estrosi, have accused Mr Valls of hypocrisy for failing to prevent the opening of a Saudi-funded mosque in Nice. There is widespread concern in Europe about the influence of Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi version of Islam.
In recent weeks, the French government has been severely criticized by many over its handling of the terrorist threat. On 18 July, Mr Valls was booed during a commemoration ceremony in Nice for the 84 people who were killed by a lorry, which ploughed into a holiday crowd on the city’s beachfront promenade. The Tunisian driver is believed to have been inspired by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. In the wake of last week’s murder of a priest in a church, two men have been arrested. Farid K, 30, a cousin of attacker Abdel Malik Petitjean, was arrested on suspicion of “terrorist association,” while the other man, Jean-Philippe Steven J, 20, was placed under formal investigation for allegedly attempting to travel to Syria in June with Petitjean. Petitjean and accomplice Adel Kermiche, both 19, were shot dead by police.