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France plans nation-wide Islam and secularism debate

Maybe its time for Freedom fries again?

France plans nation-wide Islam and secularism debate


France’s governing party plans to launch a national debate on the role of Islam and respect for French secularism among Muslims here, two issues emerging as major themes for the presidential election due next year.  Jean-François Copé, secretary general of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said the debate would examine issues such as the financing and building of mosques, the contents of Friday sermons and the education of the imams delivering them.

The announcement, coming after a meeting of UMP legislators with Sarkozy on Wednesday, follows the president’s declaration last week that multiculturalism had failed in France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have made similar statements in recent months that were also seen as aimed at Muslim minorities there. France’s five-million strong Muslim minority is Europe’s largest.

Copé said the debate, due to start in early April, would ask “how to organise religious practice so that it is compatible in our country with the rules of our secular republic.”

UMP parliamentarians said Sarkozy told them they had to lead this debate to ensure it stays under control. The far-right National Front, reinvigorated with its new leader Marine Le Pen, has recently begun a campaign criticising Muslims here.

“Our party, and then parliament, must take on this subject,” they quoted Sarkozy as saying. “I don’t want prayers in the streets, or calls to prayer. We had a debate on the burqa and that was a good thing. We need to agree in principle about the place of religion in 2011.”

France has sought to keep religion out of the public sphere since it officially separated the Catholic Church and the state in 1905. The growth of a Muslim minority in recent decades has posed new challenges that lead to sometimes heated debates. The government banned headscarves in state schools in 2004 and outlawed full face veils in public last year. But there are no rules about halal meals in schools, for example, or whether Muslims can pray in the streets outside an overcrowded mosque.

The French government held a country-wide debate on national identity in 2009-2010 that preceded the full face veil ban. Many Muslims criticised the debate, saying it turned into a forum to stigmatise them and let people air biased views about Islam.

Marine Le Pen, daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, stole a march on the UMP in December when she compared Muslims praying in the streets to the wartime Nazi occupation. “Marine Le Pen is getting ratings higher than her father, so at 18 months before the presidential election, you can see why it’s getting urgent (for the UMP) to debate the place of Muslims in France and how they practice their religion,” said RTL radio commentator Marie-Bénédicte Allaire.

When journalists asked Copé if the UMP’s Islam debate would only give credence to Le Pen’s campaign, he said: “Marine Le Pen highlights problems but doesn’t work too much on solutions.” Copé said the UMP would invite “numerous civil and religious personalities (for) broad debates about this absolutely major question. It would be wrong not to deal with this.”

According to the daily Le Figaro, Sarkozy asked the UMP deputies for concrete suggestions within a few months for solving disputed issues about religion in the public sphere.

According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 80 percent of French Muslims said they were loyal to France, but 56 percent of the general public doubted their Muslim neighbours were loyal to the country.

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  • UK Muslim

    “The problem I see in Europe is that their governments, unable or unwilling properly integrate their immigrants or to crack down on their more criminal or socially-backwards elements”

    Integrate is not a synonym for assimilation. The first is a two way process & the second is just a one process.

    Considering the paternalistic centrist French state, I think it will be more of a monologue than a dialogue.

  • Mymy

    An election year probably.

  • Jules


    The issue of multiculturalism is how we define it; its (sensible) supporters simply see it as allowing any cultural customs that don’t infringe upon basic human rights or the ability of other cultures to observe their own practices. Its (more rabid) opponents tend to caricature it as allowing people to do things like commit honor killings if it’s more common within the culture of their ancestors, or telling them that they shouldn’t learn English, French, German, etc.

    The problem I see in Europe is that their governments, unable or unwilling properly integrate their immigrants or to crack down on their more criminal or socially-backwards elements (I suspect the latter is what most politicians mean when they say that multiculturalism has failed, though it’s really the state and law enforcement which have failed), originally pretended that their non-white population didn’t exist. Of course, that having obviously failed, they’ve begun to scapegoat decent law-abiding Muslims to cover up for their earlier failures, and to provide a convenient target for Europeans dissatisfied with the status quo. Like others have said, little more than scoring some cheap political points.

  • Seems like a transparent attempt to distract the public from their failed administrations. It will be a state-sponsored platform for Islamophobes to portray their biased views as informed and respectable.

  • Sir David ( Illuminati membership number 5:32) Warning Contains Irony

    I dont think France ever went for the multicultural idea , assimilation is/was always the aim . Its not just Muslims , Bretons and Basques get a hard deal if they try to show their identity. French people sometimes to me seem to have a phobia of any nationalistic , spiritual or religious discussion.
    Unfortunetly Madam LePen is getting lots of votes and publicity so sarko forever looking out for his chances at the next election goes on the attack ,who ever is the most racist get the right wing vote.

  • Let’s hope the FACTS about Islam and Muslims are presented – and not media promoted conspiracy theories and myths, like “Islamisation.”

    Also – multiculturalism is NOT a failure. What is a failure is the inability to understand that living in a free society with free expression and the right to cultural practice requires.

    Ask this: “What is meant by ‘integration and assimilation’ in relation to immigrants?”
    This means that an immigrant, especially an Muslim one, needs to give up his religion, manner of dress, stop eating ethnic foods, observing ethnic holidays —

    If this is what is meant by “assimilation and integration” — then they violate the rights of human beings — and political animals like Sarkozy need to be strongly reminded of what it means to live in a liberal democracy with freedom and liberty for individuals!

    “Assimilation and integration” in a liberal democracy does not mean suppression of ethnic and religions expressions!

    Let’s also see HARD EVIDENCE that “Islamist terrorists” feed off of multiculturalism.

    The HARD TRUTH is that political animals like Sarkozy are feeding off of the right-wing, which continues to be a threat to Europe!

  • George Carty

    Is the problem with the banlieues in France similar to that with the “mill and mosque towns” in Lancashire and Yorkshire? Namely, that the Muslims were imported as cheap labour to work in an industry that ended up closing down anyway?

  • Michael Elwood

    “And this from my favorite professor of Islamic Studies, Aisha Musa.”

    I’m a fan of Aisha Musa too! 🙂 I remember how she made short work of some Islamophobes on the forums, and I remember her debate with that clown Christopher Hitchens. I also have her book “Hadith as Scripture”.

  • DrM

    Excellent comments, gentlemen. This “debate” will be nothing but a conversation among French islamophobe, pretty much anything to shift attention away from the pathetic condition of that country. I never cared the French, but their unhealthy obsession with Islam has made me genuinely despise them. This is why I am especially happy to Francophone secular dictatorships go down the toilet.
    Deep down the words of Charles de Gaulle haunt the French : “The future belongs to Islam.”

  • antiislamophobe

    @muhammad ‘abd-al haqq

    You are very much spot on with Florida, but it’s strange how such a state with a fairly huge Muslim population could be so Islamophobic. Maybe I just answered my question right there. Either way, won’t be long before the Muslims down there take all they can and rise up and take action.

    No Islamophobes, I’m talking about non-violent action like sit-ins and mass protests, yes Muslims are capable of doing things the none violent way, as they always had the majority of the time.

  • antiislamophobe

    This notion of “separation of church and state” is nothing but a load of bull when concerning Muslims in France. Secularism is just an excuse to repress a certain group because their set of beliefs is different than the traditional ones the French have held. This is just another sad attempt by the sleez bag Sarkozy to hide is bigotry. I hope in the very near future to see protests and non violent demonstrations by Muslims in France as we saw in Egypt the past few weeks, the thousands and millions praying the streets, that ought to rile him and his Islamophobic cabinet up. It’s already spreading from Algeria to Bahrain, even here in the States (Wisconsin anyone?). hopefully it spill into Europe. Enough of this madness, it’s time Muslims and other oppressed people around the world rise up and demand their rights.

  • i am glad you understand me Nassir. i would be highly hypocritical of me to decry Islamophobes characterizing all Muslims as violent or terrorist because of their police blotter reports, and then turn around and characterize entire populations as loony. For the record a loon state or nation is one where loony views have been mainstreamed, i.e. mainstream media legitimates such views by representing them them positively and not negatively. If anyone still does not believe me about Florida, try this. A large number of Christian televangelical programs broadcast from or are based in Florida. Watch some of them as i did growing up in a Christian household and see what a disturbingly significant segment of Florida’s Christian population think about Muslims/Islam. Now back to France 🙂

    Allahu A’lam

  • NassirH

    “…calling a nation a loon nation or a loon state is not a blanket condemnation of entire populations. As you can’ see i put the characterization in quotations. It is merely to highlight how loony views are becoming mainstreamed in these regions.”

    I understand—it’s just that I saw some loons on JihadWatch capitalizing on this post. But yes, I agree that Islamophobia has become increasingly mainstream and acceptable in some regions, especially in places like France.

  • How about this from our current governor Rick Scott.

    This is a campaign advertisement mind you!

    Allahu A’lam

  • And this from my favorite professor of Islamic Studies, Aisha Musa. The article is a bit old but…

    Florida leads the US in Islamophobia

    Allahu A’lam

  • Please trust me on this Nassir…calling a nation a loon nation or a loon state is not a blanket condemnation of entire populations. As you can see i put the characterization in quotations. It is merely to highlight how loony views are becoming mainstreamed in these regions.

    The other day Tariq Ramadan was on french satellite TV being shouted down by some Islamophobe.i didn’t know Daniel Pipes spoke French but he was on French TV two nights ago sounding very Spencerian.And Sarkozy has given public speeches where he says things about Muslims that would get Obama impeached over here if he said similar things about American Muslims.

    Qur’an burning rallies, Allen West getting elected, Walid Phares, a known terrorist teaching at a reputable Florida University. Another prominent Islamophobe who is a member of a rabidly anti-Muslim organization, which i won’t name, teaching a course called “radical Islam”. Calling our Muslim Student Organization a front for the Muslim Brotherhood because we have fundraised for Muslim charities or have had speakers like Imam Siraj Wahaj and Bilal Philips speak at our events. Or being looked on with suspicion because we have had CAIR members at our meetings years ago. How about inviting Daniel Pipes to speak at out University in a lecture entitled “Who is the Enemy?” What do you think that lecture was about? How about when a University employee spit on a hijabi friend of mine and screamed at her to “go back to where you come from!” for protesting the University’s invitation of a prominent Islamophobe to speak? The employee was never fired. Or how about when the entire Shura of our masjid was detained by FBI officials and accused of being terrorist supporters and sympathizers? Or when Robert Spencer Jihadwatch accused our former Imam of being a terrorist. Or the Sami al-Arian Affair? Not to mention this:

    There are too many incidents in Florida alone for me to mention them all here, but suffice it to say Florida is one of the “Loon States”.

    And France!!? Who held a “moratorium” on banning the burqa and niqab? In what country is this type of proposed legislation being taken seriously? Who banned the hijab in public state schools? Which country has a prominent politician publicly comparing Muslims to Nazis for praying in the streets? Which country plans a nation-wide Islam and secularism debate?

    “quoted Sarkozy as saying. “I don’t want prayers in the streets, or calls to prayer. We had a debate on the burqa and that was a good thing. We need to agree in principle about the place of religion in 2011.””

    France is a “Loon Nation”.

    Allahu A’lam

  • anj

    In my opinion it is just politics playing out. High unemployment, poverty, the state being run badly etc etc so they need a bogeyman to hide behind so they can momentarily forget about their sad lives. So they have chosen islam. Ask any immigrant in france and they will tell you that it is an inherantly racist state. 5 mins drive from the champs elleyse and its a ghetto in all directions.
    Sarkozy is a well known bigot. Underneath that tiny exterior he is a nasty peice of work. He has a problem with muslims and islam in general.
    So it is no suprise that sarkozy and angela “opus dey” merkel have these issues. Lets have the debate and lets expose their lies and hyppocracy.
    Their pillaging of north africa, dirty deals and toture practices in algeria. France has muslim bloodon its hands and history is a whitness. So i would welcome a debate with these fools.

  • NassirH

    I wouldn’t characterize any country as a “loon nation” (nor any state as a “loon state” for that matter), but I have definitely noticed that some Western countries are obsessed with Islam. Don’t they have bigger issues to tackle and debate than what Muslims eat, wear, etc?

  • i knew it would come to this eventually! France is one of the “Loon Nations”, just like Florida is one of the “Loon States”. i know some of the LWers might think that is going to far, but, being a Haitian, i have French and Haitian channels on my satelite and the French are literally obsessed with Islam. And not in a good way either.

    Allahu A’lam

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  • Mosizzle

    “Copé said the debate, due to start in early April, would ask “how to organise religious practice so that it is compatible in our country with the rules of our secular republic.””

    They want to separate the Church and the State, yet they want the State to regulate the Mosques? I’m going to be quite honest here and say that Copé needs to shut up. Perhaps other measures could be taken but to suggest that Islam needs to be reorganised to fit France is outrageous. You can change the Muslims, and make them more proud to be French and more happy to be part of French society but leave Islam alone.

    Some might enter the debate with good intentions of integrating the Muslim community, which we all want, but eventually it will descend into an anti-Muslim hate fest, as these things always do.

    Any drive to integrate Muslims should be led by Muslims and politicians working together. It shouldn’t just be some politicians telling us what part of our religion is acceptable to them, they’re only interested because they need the votes.

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