The National – August 17, 2012
Francois Hollande‘s new socialist government shows early signs of being less tolerant towards France’s large Muslim community than the previous centre-right administration of Nicolas Sarkozy, according to the co-founder of a body promoting the interests of Arabian Gulf and African nations. The charge is at first glance surprising given the lengths to which Mr Sarkozy went, in vain, to lure voters in the May presidential election from the far-right, anti-immigration Front National.
But Yana Korobko, secretary of the Paris-based Observatory of the Black, Gulf and Mediterranean Seas (OBGMS), said Mr Hollande’s positions were “unusually firm for a leftist in France”.
“The question of new mosques construction remains undecided because of the firm unwillingness of the Europeans to accept another culture on their territory, especially in such large numbers,” Ms Korobko said. “It is mainly caused by the historic, social and psychological specificities of the Europeans, and the French people in particular.”
She is not alone in being concerned about the outlook of the left as a whole. As if to prove her point that there is no clear-cut distinction between the main strands of French politics, a centre-right local administration in the southern town of Saint-Esteve ruled this week that no separate space could be found in the municipal cemetery for Muslims.
News Agencies – April 5, 2012
President Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of exploiting public fears about Islamist violence in France by ordering a wave of arrests of suspected radicals across the country in a desperate electoral ploy. The country’s biggest annual gathering of French Muslims begins on the outskirts of Paris with what one hostile newspaper called a “virulent” and highly politicised message from the president ringing in delegates’ ears.
Mr Sarkozy said in a letter to Ahmed Jaballah, president of the Union of Islamic Organisations (UOIF), he would not tolerate support being expressed at a public meeting on French soil for “violence, hatred [and] anti-Semitism, which constitute unbearable attacks that run counter to human dignity and republican principles”.
The left-of-centre daily newspaper Libération offered its judgement of the letter’s contents in five pages of coverage of rising tensions and political maneuvering headed “Sarkozy and Islam: dangerous liaisons.”
France counts today more than 2,000 mosques and places of worship. About 1,500 ti 1,800 imams lead daily prayers and celebrate the preach on Friday. When it was created in May 2003, the French Council for Muslim Cult (CFCM) had the training of imams at the top of its priorities. Hindered by internal disputes and incapable to go beyond group loyalties, the leaders of CFCM have never been able to put forward any serious proposal. Political leaders have not always seemed to grasp the importance of the issue. Since 2003, four ministers of the Interior and Cults, including current president Mr Sarkozy, have occupied the Place Beauvau (home of the Interior Ministry). Each time, the Minister aims to address the issue of the training of imams, displays a can-do attitude, and each time ho goes away without really tackling the issue. The authority of Islam in France is plural, and no personality – as respected as he may be – can pretend to express the voice of all Muslims, which is a real problem in France.
By Simon Tisdall Nicolas Sarkozy’s flat rejection of Turkey’s EU membership bid does not mean the game is up for Ankara. France’s ambitious interior minister believes he is a natural successor to Jacques Chirac. But he has not been elected president yet – and will not be if the centre-left’s likely candidate, S_gol_ne Royal, has her way next spring. Nor does he run the EU. All the same, Mr Sarkozy’s views, when coupled with the hostile attitude of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other European leaders, make discouraging reading for the Turks. “We should, for many reasons, deepen relations with Turkey but without going as far as full membership,” he said in Brussels. “We have to say who is European and who isn’t. It’s no longer possible to leave this question open.” Mr Sarkozy’s negative positioning reduces the incentives for Turkey to comply with EU demands ahead of next month’s “progress report” by Olli Rehn, the enlargement chief. They include the abolition of laws limiting freedom of expression that often give rise to nationalist show trials, such as that due later this month of Elif Shafak, a best-selling author accused of “insulting Turkishness”. EU demands also focus on the treatment of Turkey’s disadvantaged Kurdish minority, dependable economic management in the wake of June’s currency crisis, and Cyprus. The EU contributed to this latter problem by admitting the island in 2004 without insisting the majority Greek Cypriots accept the UN’s peace plan. Now, predictably, they and Greece are threatening dire consequences if Turkey does not open its ports to Greek Cypriot trade. Turkish Cypriots say any such move should be reciprocal – but their isolated government is in disarray and their voice is barely heard. Opinion polls suggest the European cold-shouldering of Turkey is having a wider public impact. Last week’s Transatlantic Trends survey by the German Marshall Fund found that 32% of Europeans regarded Turkey’s EU membership as a “bad thing”, up 12 points in two years. Turkish opinion “has cooled towards the US and Europe but has warmed to Iran”. American and British governments have long viewed majority Muslim Turkey as a bridge to the Islamic world. But such growing goodwill towards George Bush’s “Tehran tyrants” may be seen as a bridge too far. Europe’s leaders have only themselves to blame for such trends. They are pushing Turkey away when the west needs it more than ever – a fact more readily conceded in Washington than in some European capitals. Despite strong domestic opposition, Ankara agreed last week to contribute up to 1,000 troops to UN peacekeeping in Lebanon, giving a Muslim complexion to a predominantly European, French-led effort. Mr Sarkozy conveniently ignored that. Nato also wants more Turkish sharp-end help in Afghanistan. “We have many important capabilities to offer the EU,” said a Turkish diplomat. “We talk to the Iranians from time to time. We are not mediators but we try to ensure both sides understand each other. We have good relations with both Israel and the Palestinians. Turkey has been an important force for stability in Iraq.” The EU might also reflect on Turkey’s growing role as an alternative, non-Russian route for Caspian and central Asian oil and gas, as a rare democratic partner in the Islamic world and in fighting terrorism, the diplomat said. “Joining the EU remains a major foreign policy objective. Most Turks still support this. We will keep working on this. But Europe should understand it needs Turkey, too.”