France reassures Muslims

Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the French prime minister, reassured the leader of the country’s Muslims yesterday of his government’s respect for Islam following the recent crackdown on imams.

Islam / Islamism

Islamism is a totalitarian ideology adhered to by Muslim extremists (e.g. the Taliban, Wahhabis, Hamas and Osama bin Laden). It is considered to be a distortion of Islam. Many Islamists engage in terrorism in pursuit of their goals.

Adherents of Islam are called “Muslims.” The term “Arab” describes an ethnic or cultural identity. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. The terms are not interchangeable.

Dalil Boubakeur, the head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said Mr Raffarin had told him the expulsion of five suspected radical imams in the past four months “did not reflect any hostility” towards France’s 5 million Muslims, the largest community in Europe.

In return Mr Boubakeur promised to improve training for Islamic clerics and to draw up a list of authorised imams.

According to the interior ministry 10% of France’s 1,000-1,500 imams are citizens, less than half speak French and many are illegal immigrants.

Mr Boubakeur, who asked for the meeting last week after accusing the media of portraying France’s imams as “a horde of foreign mercenaries without the slightest regard for the rule of law”, said the biggest problem was “to ensure [imams] don’t mix religion and politics”.

He said yesterday: “Eighty percent of imams in France match the criteria recognised by Islam but there are a minority which I believe are not worthy of their mission.”

Two radical imams have been expelled from France in the past two weeks, including Abdelkader Bouziane, a Lyon cleric, who publicly supported wife-beating. The government is appealing against a court’s decision that Mr Bouziane’s expulsion was illegal.

Yesterday a French judge ordered Midhat Guler, a Turkish imam in Paris, to be held under house arrest after his arrest at the weekend on suspicion of leading a group that advocated terrorism. Mr Guler’s son, Abdurrahman, said his father did not preach and did not understand why he was being held.

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