STRASBOURG (France): France’s Socialist government vowed on Thursday to do more to integrate the country’s Muslims but warned that it would not tolerate the country becoming a hotbed of Islamic radicalism.
In a speech marking the inauguration of the Strasbourg Grand Mosque, the biggest Islamic place of worship ever built on French soil, Interior Minister Manuel Valls pledged to come down hard on extremists, warning that foreign activists trying to stir up trouble would be immediately deported.
But he also held out an olive branch to the country’s four million Muslims by promising state help for the construction of more mosques and for the training of Muslim clerics.
Valls, whose rhetoric has frequently drawn comparisons with that of rightwing former president Nicolas Sarkozy, praised French Muslims for their measured response to the recent publication of a satirical weekly’s publication of anti-Islam cartoons.
“Islam has its place in France because the Islam of France, it is a part of France,” he told representatives of the Catholic, Jewish and Protestant communities attending the official opening the mosque capable of hosting 1,500 people.
Relations between the French state and a Muslim community that has its roots in former colonies Algeria and Morocco have been strained in recent years by a string of controversies pitting their faith against France’s secular tradition.
Legislation introduced under Sarkozy which bans women from wearing full veils in public is widely resented and long-runningdebates over halal methods of animal slaughter and whether public prayers should be authorised have added to tensions linked to the economic marginalisation of many Muslims.
Concern over the development of radicalism among some young French Muslims has meanwhile intensified in the aftermath of Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah’s killing of seven people in the southern city of Toulouse earlier this year.—AFP