Controversy over the French government’s crackdown on radical Islam deepened yesterday when Paris attempted to kick out another alleged extremist religious and political leader, the sixth in four months.
The expulsion of Midhat Guler, a Turkish market trader who had lived in France for 28 years, was halted after he appealed for political asylum. The French government says he is the leader in France of an extremist Turkish sect called Kaplan, which is already banned in Turkey and Germany.
His son, Abdurrahman, said his father was a non-political small businessman and former car worker, who was not even an imam, or preacher, and had no connection with extremist movements. The family’s lawyer, Maitre Adrien Namigohar, said M. Guler, 45, was the victim of a witch-hunt and that no firm evidence had been presented against him.
Doubts have been raised by moderate Islamic leaders and opposition politicians about the wisdom of highly publicised expulsions of alleged Islamic extremists by the new Interior Minister, Dominique de Villepin. There has been a stream of similar expulsions from France but most without fuss.
Two weeks ago, France ejected to Algeria Abdelkader Bouziane, the imam of a fundamentalist sect at Venissieux, near Lyons, who had told a magazine the Koran approved of the beating of women. French courts have since ruled that M. Bouziane, who has two wives and 16 children, was expelled illegally. Moderate Islamic leaders said they detest M. Bouziane’s teaching but disapprove of the publicity which surrounded his expulsion. Lhaj Thamy Breze, president of the union of Islamic organisations in France, accused M. de Villepin of adopting a “theatrical” approach which would increase fear of Islam in France.
Five imams have been kicked out of France since the start of this year, all with little fanfare until M. de Villepin became Interior Minister last month. A further 30 mosques are said to be under surveillance by the security services.
In a statement at the weekend, M. de Villepin said the government would continue its tough line with “people who call themselves imams and betray the Islamic message of peace” by preaching violence or encouraging terrorist activity. Such a policy was the in the best interests of moderate Muslims in France, as well as the country as a whole, he said.
M. Guler, who was arrested soon after M. de Villepin spoke on Saturday, lived in Courtry, east of Paris. The French internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du territoire, says he is also the leader in France of the radical, Islamist movement, Kaplan, which wants to impose a fundamentalist Islamic state in Turkey. Moderate Turkish leaders in France said they had complained for years that Kaplan was allowed to operate openly although he was banned in Turkey and Germany. They said the small mosque administered by M. Guler in the 11th arrondissement of Paris was the organisation’s “shop window” in France.
French officials say that sermons preached at the mosque by visiting imams have included implied calls for violence against Americans, Jews and Christians.
The expulsions of foreign imams and religious leaders demonstrates that most imams in the 3,700,000-strong Muslim community in France are not French citizens. The governments says eight in 10 imams are foreign and that many cannot speak French.
M. Breze said that this figure was exaggerated. He said his organisation was quickly training imams “made in France”, to ensure that French Islam was “no longer in thrall to foreigners”.