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Expert flays use of force to form Muslim body • Saturday December 21, 2002

DAWN (Pakistan), Dec. 18, 2002
By Paul Michaud

PARIS, Dec 17: A leading international specialist on Islam in France, Bruno Etienne, who is director of the Observatoire du Religieux and a professor at the Institut d’etudes politiques at the Universite d’Aix-Marseille III, says that the “forceful methods” presently being employed by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, to form a unified representational organisation for Muslims in France will not only prove counterproductive, they could also very well eventually backfire against him too.

Mr Etienne, the author of many books on Islam in France, and who has been closely monitoring talks begun last summer by Mr Sarkozy to bring about a unified representational institution for Muslims in France, to be named the Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman (CFCM), said that his representatives were using methods characterised as being “heavy-handed”. He added that the minister was presently “making the very same mistake” with French Muslims that Napoleon Bonaparte committed in 1806, when he attempted to force French Jews to set up their own representational organization, the Consistoire central du Judaism Francais, which finally came into existence on March 17, 1808.

Speaking on radio station Europe 1 this morning, Mr Etienne told his interviewer that he hasn’t even been able to obtain a copy of the accord, supposedly signed early last week by three Muslim groups, and that a larger group of representatives are presently “being kept under lock and key” at a French chateau and being told to come up with a final accord to be presented next Thursday at a “national assembly” of French Muslims to be held at Nainville-les-Roches, south of Paris.

Mr Etienne says that although he was a fervent supporter of such a French organisation for the five to six Muslims, he did not think that a council, even if one is announced on Friday (Dec. 20) at Nainville-les-Roches, will truly represent all aspects of Islam in France, and that on the contrary, it could very well spark a new series of conflicts within the French Muslim community.

The president of the Observatoire du Religieux also pointed out how the eventual legal structure of the CFCM could further prove problematic for French Muslims who are effectively subject to two kinds of laws.

He points out that although a good many of France’s smaller mosques were self-financed and considered as French establishments, many of the larger institutions – for example, the Grande Mosquee de Paris – are financed and sometimes managed from outside of France, from places like Morocco, Algeria and Saudi Arabia.

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