The French government are convinced, it seems, that the Muslim community must play a key role in the battle against jihadism and terrorism.
After a spate of recent terror attacks the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve have been talking tough.
Under pressure from the right to be seen to be tackling radical Islam, Cazeneuve announced on Monday that French authorities had shut down since December around 20 mosques and prayer halls considered to be preaching radical Islam.
He also said that since 2012, 80 people had been expelled from France, and dozens more expulsions were underway, without giving further details.
“There is no place … in France for those who call for and incite hatred in prayer halls or in mosques, and who don't respect certain republican principles, notably equality between men and women,” the minister said.
“That is why I took the decision a few months ago to close mosques through the state of emergency, legal measures or administrative measures. About 20 mosques have been closed, and there will be others.”
Cazeneuve’s announcements came a day after his PM Manuel Valls issued veiled threat to Muslims in France in a long tribune in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
“If Islam does not help the Republic fight those who undermine public freedoms, then it will be increasingly hard for the Republic to guarantee its freedom of worship,” said the PM, who once again appealed for a “pact with Islam”.
The PM offered a less provocative tone however when he insisted that: “Islam does have its place in the Republic”.
Nevertheless he repeated his desire, made just two days earlier, that he wants all Imams to be trained in France and the foreign funding of mosques to be restricted.
“Everything needs to be put on the table with France’s Muslims and their representatives,” he said. “It will take a massive and powerful commitment, mainly from Muslims and I ask them to act within their families and their neighbourhoods.”
Some in the Muslim community did not appreciate Valls’s suggestion that the problem with terrorism came from within the Muslim community.
“These [terrorists] are convicts, alcoholics, psychopaths, not at all the type of people who go to mosques,” said Brahim Ait Moussa a member of the union of Muslims in the Pas-de-Calais region after attending mass on Sunday in support of priest who was killed by teenage jihadists in Saint-Etienne de Rouvray, near Rouen.
“There is no connection between funding of mosques and what happened in Saint-Etienne de Rouvray,” Moussa told Europe 1 radio. “Given that we know the profile of the assailants who had no direct link to the mosques.”
Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith said: “Muslims in France have always taken their responsibilities, since the attacks of January 2015. A real substantive work has been conducted.”
Kbibech said however that his organisation was prepared to study all the propositions.
However specialist on Islam Severine Labat from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) believes that while France could benefit from finding a new relationship with Islam, it won’t solve the problem of terrorism.
“The relationship between the French state and Islam has always been complicated and something should have done 50 years ago,” she told The Local.
“But those who want to be radicalized will do so anyway, because it is not happening in mosques. Young people are being radicalized on the internet.”
Labat also believes the state must demonstrate that any new rules they bring in are not just against Islam but all cults.