Reuters, Apr. 15, 2003
By Catherine Bremer
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday the council, which will represent the country’s five million Muslims, would not be allowed to become a breeding ground for radical Islam.
“Islamic law will not apply anywhere because it is not the law of the French republic. Any Imams whose views run contrary to the values of the republic will be deported,” Sarkozy told Europe 1 radio.
“(The council gives us) more latitude to fight against the few Imams who breach the law in advocating violence or anti-Semitism. Those Imams will be expelled,” he added.
Earlier this month, Britain revoked the citizenship of a radical Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, who praised the September 11 attacks, after banning him from preaching at his London mosque because of his extreme statements.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), elected at the weekend and due to start work in September, is aimed at fostering a better understanding of Islam in secular and mainly Catholic France.
But some French newspapers said the elections marked a defeat for moderate Islam, after the traditionalist Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF) won a third of the vote.
Paris’s Catholic archbishop Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger has said he fears the council could nurture Islamic fundamentalism.
But Sarkozy said such concerns were exaggerated.
“The CFCM is the best way to fight the Islam of basements and garages. The danger would exist if we had not done anything,” he told Tuesday’s Le Parisien newspaper.
The council, the fruit of years of talks between successive French governments and disparate Muslim groups, will give Europe’s biggest Muslim community the official representation other major religions have had for decades.
It will provide a platform for talks with the government on building mosques and Muslim cemeteries, and aim to improve relations with those French whose fear of Islamic fundamentalism has made them wary of ordinary Muslims.
Despite their numbers and historical ties to France, Muslims are still poorly integrated, often living in grim, crime-ridden suburban estates where frustrated youths can more easily be won over by extremist groups than they might be elsewhere.
A lack of mosques means many cram into basement rooms to pray.
Sarkozy said he was not concerned about the support for the UOIF, which came second behind the more moderate Moroccan-backed National Federation of Muslims (FNMF).
“I have nothing against them,” Sarkozy told Le Parisien.
“They are one component of French Islam, along with the more moderate Paris Mosque, and the FNMF, which has an intermediate position. We needed to find a balance between the three.”