PARIS – A deeply unpopular French President Francois Hollande asserted that the country’s secular laws do not contradict with Islam, calling for the creation of “an Islam of France” to combat radical ideas.
“Nothing in the idea of secularism opposes the practice of Islam in France, provided it respects the law,” Hollande said in a speech on terrorism and democracy in Paris on Thursday, September 8, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
Secularism was not a “state religion” to be used against other religions, he said, denouncing the “stigmatization of Muslims.”
The speech comes in the midst of a debate on the banning of the Islamic burkini swimsuit.
Mayors in around 30 French towns this summer cited the country’s century-old secular laws in banning head-to-toe swimwear on their beaches, sparking uproar and condemnation.
Several towns later revoked the bans after France’s highest administrative court ruled they were a “serious” violation of basic freedoms.
Meanwhile, the French president called for the creation of “an Islam of France” and the removal of the so-called “foreign-trained extremist” imams.
“Nothing in the idea of secularism is opposed to the practice of Islam in France, as long — and that is the vital point — as it complies with the law,” Hollande was quoted by CNN.
“What we need to succeed in together is the creation of an Islam of France,” Hollande said.
“The first decision consists of reintroducing a foundation for Islam, which relies on cultural, educational and social initiatives.
“The second will be to create a national association in order to obtain financing for the building of mosques and the training of imams. The republic cannot accept a situation where a majority of imams are trained abroad and sometimes don’t speak our language.”
Hollande rejected calls for a nationwide burkini ban, suggested by conservatives, including his arch-rival, former president Nicolas Sarkozy, saying it would be “unconstitutional”.
As to whether Islam can co-exist with a secular French state, like Christianity and Judaism do, he insisted: “My answer is yes, certainly.”
“The question the Republic must answer is: Is it really ready to embrace a religion that it did not expect to be this big over a century ago. There too, my answer is yes, certainly.”
He also warned that France could not sacrifice its core values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
“Did the Patriot Act and Guantanamo protect Americans from the (terrorist) threat? No,” he said, alluding to calls by Sarkozy for terror suspects to be interned in camps.
“Democracy is our weapon” Hollande insisted.
Facing severe competition for the Elysee Palace, Hollande cast himself as the only man who could hold the fractured country together.
“When there is danger we must come together,” he said.