‘French Muslims must make an effort to adapt to France’

Conservative Muslims should do more to integrate into mainstream French society says the Frenchman who was controversially chosen to head France's new Foundation for Islam.

'French Muslims must make an effort to adapt to France'
Photo: AFP

The 77-year-old former defence minister chosen to head France's new Foundation for Islam in France on Monday called on conservative Muslims to try harder to integrate into society.

The appointment of Jean-Pierre Chevenement (see photo below) sparked controversy in August, with many questioning why the post went not to a Muslim, but to a political veteran known for his rigidly secular views.

Shortly after his nomination, he came under fire for tweeting that Muslims should “be discreet, like everyone else”, in the midst of fiery debate over the “burkini” full-body swimsuit.

On Monday, he told a group of foreign correspondents he found it “in very bad taste of those (burkini-wearing) women to go bathing two weeks after the Nice attack, 20 or 30 kilometres (miles) away” from where 86 people were killed by a rampaging radicalised truck driver.

“It was bound to cause surprise, consternation and unease in the rest of the population,” Chevenement argued.

“Out of friendship for my compatriots of Muslim origin I'm asking them to make a little effort to adapt to the customs of the host society.”

But Chevenement, who served as interior, defence and education minister in successive Socialist governments in the 1980s and 1990s, said he opposed further restrictions on Islamic clothing in public places.

READ ALSO: What France can do to help its Muslims integrate

Several southern French beach towns near Nice banned the burkini over the summer, but the restrictions were struck down by the courts.

In 2010, France became the first country in Europe to ban the full veil in public spaces.

“I prefer to convince people rather than regulate,” Chevenement said, adding that the strict rules separating religion from public life in France were not meant to be “anti-religion”.

The Socialist government, in creating an Islamic foundation, aims to open a new chapter in relations between France and its estimated 4-5 million Muslims in the wake of a series of jihadist attacks.

On Sunday, the country will mark the first anniversary of the carnage wrought by a group of mainly French-born Islamic State jihadists, whose attacks on Paris nightlife spots killed 130 people and unleashed  divisive debate over Muslim integration.

In contrast to the French Council of the Muslim Faith, which handles religious matters, the Foundation for Islam will focus on lay issues, such as teaching foreign-born imams about French culture and setting up scholarships for promising Muslim students.

Chevenement said the biggest problem facing young Muslims was unemployment, and “the feeling that a CV from someone called Ali has less chance of being accepted than a CV from a Paul or a Pierre”, which he said was not always borne out by reality.

Big public and private companies had made progress towards greater diversity in the workplace, he said.

“Honestly, I think we should not always point a finger at the host society,” he said.


US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.