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Valls pledges hard line against Islamists

France's Socialist government vowed 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.

Valls pledges hard line against Islamists
Photo: Parti socialiste

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 cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed.

"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-running debates 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.

It is in this context that Valls has adopted much of the rhetoric deployed by Sarkozy during his time in office.

He warned Thursday that he would not "hesitate to expel those who claim to follow Islam and represent a serious threat to public order and, as foreigners in our country, do not respect our laws and values."

He also made it clear that the Muslim community as a whole had to accept responsibility for tackling extremism, which he linked to a reemergence of anti-Semitism in the country.

"France's Muslims can congratulate themselves on the singular model that they are building," Valls said. "Of course it remains fragile, not every problem has been solved or overcome.

"If all religions have their share of fundamentalists, it is in Islam that this raises fears. It was on French soil and with a French passport that Mohammed Merah killed in the name of Islam.

"Anti-Semitism is a terrible scourge and its resurgence cannot be disguised."

Built within two kilometres (just over a mile) from Strasbourg's celebrated cathedral, the new mosque has a capacity of 1,300 square metres (14,000 square feet), making it 1.5 times as big as the previous largest one in France, at Evry in the Paris suburbs.

It has a 16-metre copper dome but no minaret and has taken nearly two decades to complete since the project was first launched in 1993.

The cost of construction was €10.5 million ($13.5 million), with the local region and the governments of Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi Arabia all contributing.

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ISLAM

Erdogan calls French separatism bill ‘guillotine’ of democracy

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday denounced a planned French law designed to counter "Islamist separatism" as a "guillotine" of democracy.

Erdogan calls French separatism bill 'guillotine' of democracy
Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as "anti-Muslim". Photo: Adem ALTAN/AFP

The draft legislation has been criticised both inside France and abroad for stigmatising Muslims and giving the state new powers to limit speech and religious groups.

“The adoption of this law, which is openly in contradiction of human rights, freedom of religion and European values, will be a guillotine blow inflicted on French democracy,” said Erdogan in a speech in Ankara.

The current version of the planned law would only serve the cause of extremism, putting NGOs under pressure and “forcing young people to choose between their beliefs and their education”, he added.

READ ALSO: What’s in France’s new law to crack down on Islamist extremism?

“We call on the French authorities, and first of all President (Emmanuel) Macron, to act sensibly,” he continued. “We expect a rapid withdrawal of this bill.”

Erdogan also said he was ready to work with France on security issues and integration, but relations between the two leaders have been strained for some time.

France’s government is in the process of passing new legislation to crack down on what it has termed “Islamist separatism”, which would give the state more power to vet and disband religious groups judged to be threats to the nation.

Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as “anti-Muslim”.

READ ALSO: Has Macron succeeded in creating an ‘Islam for France’?

Last October, Erdogan questioned Macron’s “mental health”, accusing him of waging a “campaign of hatred” against Islam, after the French president defended the right of cartoonists to caricature the prophet Mohammed.

The two countries are also at odds on a number of other issues, including Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.

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