President Francois Hollande called for the creation of “an Islam of France” and the removal of foreign-trained extremist imams in a key speech Thursday on the challenges radical Islam poses to democracy.
Addressing the debate surrounding Islam following a summer of terror attacks and burkini bans, he stressed that French secularism was not at odds with the religion.
“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 said in Paris, stressing that secularism was “not a religion of the state that stands against all other religions.”
“What we need to succeed in together is the creation of an Islam of France,” Hollande said.
He said that this could be achieved through the new Foundation for Islam in France, a measure announced in the wake of the terror attacks to improve relations between the state and the country’s large Muslim community, which accounts for between 7% and 9% of the population.
Longtime French politician Jean-Pierre Chevènement was appointed head of the foundation last month. Hollande said France also needed 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,” he said. France’s rules of secularism prohibit the use of state funds for places of worship, and there have been concerns about the radical vision of Islam practiced in some foreign-funded mosques. At least 20 Muslim places of worship have been closed due to extremism since December, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in July.
Hollande said that radical Islam had created “a fake state, led by real killers. It skews the Islamic religion to spread its hatred.”