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France sets up Muslim council • Monday April 7, 2003

The Guardian (England), Apr. 7, 2003
Jon Henley in Paris

Amid mounting fears that the US-led war against Iraq could trigger violence among France’s 5 million Muslims, French Islamic leaders voted yesterday to elect the members of a new national council aimed at giving the faith’s diverse factions a unified voice and represent their views to government.

Islam is the second biggest religion in France after Roman Catholicism. One recent poll showed nearly one in three of the population as a whole did not want to see an allied victory in Iraq, while a poll of French Muslims published in Le Figaro on Saturday showed that 94% of respondents disapproved of the war and 72% wanted Saddam Hussein to win.

The French Muslim council, to be known by its acronym CFCM, is seen as critical to France’s efforts to satisfy the needs and expectations of its Muslim community, most of whom are relatively poor first- and second-generation immigrants from the former North African colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. It is also seen as a potentially vital bulwark against the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

A leading moderate, the rector of the Paris mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, is widely expected to become president of the new body after the second round of voting on April 13. Mr Boubakeur has warned that the war in Iraq risked creating “a new and far tougher breed of Islam” in France.

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