French Muslim leaders yesterday condemned the kidnapping in Iraq of two reporters and said there should be no negotiation over the hostage-takers’ reported demand that France overturn a law banning Islamic head scarves in schools.
The government showed no signs of capitulation, with the interior minister defending the law that takes effect when school resumes this week following the summer break. “It is not directed at anyone but aims at preserving everybody’s freedom,” said interior minister Dominique de Villepin, flanked by Muslim leaders he met with. “It plays a role in the cohesion of our country.”
Islamic militants who claimed to be holding Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot on Saturday gave France 48 hours to overturn the law, according to Arab TV station Al-Jazeera. It showed a tape of the journalists saying they were being held but treated well.
The kidnapping overturned the notion that France’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq and its generally pro-Arab policy mean that it is not a frontline target for Islamic terrorism. Al-Jazeera said militants claiming to hold the reporters described the head scarf law as “an aggression on the Islamic religion and personal freedoms”.
In France, some Muslim leaders expressed fears of a backlash against the five million-strong Muslim community, western Europe’s biggest.