National debate on French identity marginalizes French Muslims

A French debate on defining the values constituting national identity is sparking controversy amid warnings that the discussions are particularly targeting the Muslim presence. France is home to nearly seven million Muslims, the biggest Muslim minority in Europe. In early November, the French government started a three-month debate on French national identity. Some claim that the debate, championed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, has given new ammunition to the Far Right. Others point to how it has offered a platform for xenophobic views. Sarkozy himself has given a mixed message to the Muslim minority in the country.

“I address my Muslim countrymen to say I will do everything to make them feel they are citizens like any other, enjoying the same rights as all the others to live their faith and practice their religion with the same liberty and dignity,” he said in statement published by Le Monde. “But I also want to tell them that in our country, where Christian civilization has left such a deep trace, where republican values are an integral part of our national identity, everything that could be taken as a challenge to this heritage and its values would condemn to failure the necessary inauguration of a French Islam.”