French President Sarkozy responds to Swiss minaret ban

In an opinion piece for Le Monde newspaper, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has deplored the “excessive” French media and political reaction to the Swiss minaret ban. In his article, he reminds the French people of their Republican values of tolerance and openness and of the mutual respect between “those who arrive” and “those who welcome.”

The French president claims he was “stupefied” by the response and suggests that instead of condemning the Swiss for the vote outcome, it is important to understand “what it intended to express and what so many people in Europe feel, including the French”. “Nothing could be worse than denial.” Sarkozy adds he is convinced that a yes or no response to such complex issues could only lead to “painful misunderstandings, a feeling of injustice” over a problem that could be resolved on a “case by case basis with respect for the convictions and beliefs of everyone”.

The yes vote was not a barrier to freedom of religion or conscience, he argues, while paying tribute to the Swiss system of direct democracy. “No one – and no more so than Switzerland – would dream of questioning these fundamental freedoms.”

Sarkozy claims he would not say no to minarets in France but cautioned that in such a secular country religious adherents should “refrain from all ostentation or provocation” of religious practices. Muslims should recognize France’s Christian tradition, he adds, adding that anything that resembled a challenge to this heritage “would condemn to failure the very necessary establishment of Islam in France”.

Sarkozy highlighted the defense of national identity in his 2007 election campaign and pressed for the public debate that is due to end in February with a list of proposals. France has 64 mosques with minarets but only seven are deemed to be full-height, according to Brice Hortefeux, the Interior Minister.