FRANCE: Maybe President Nicholas Sarkozy will crack down on the Islamization of his country, after all

Just days after saying that multiculturalism had failed in France, President Sarkozy is launching a debate on religion and the secular state, focusing primarily on what limits should be placed on Islam.

Connexionfrance– Speaking to his UMP MPs at the Élysée, he said he wanted concrete measures on the place of Islam in France and its compatibility with the country’s secular laws. He said the French had “paid dear” for their blindness towards immigration during the 1980s, when debate was taboo.

“There was a growing disruption between the concerns of the media and the concerns of ordinary French people. The racists of yesterday are today’s populists.”

With the (anti-Islam) Martine Le Pen’s Front National rising in the polls, Mr Sarkozy adopted one of Ms Le Pen’s own themes last year, and expressed disapproval of the sight of Muslims street preachers, saying: “We had a debate on the burqa and it was well done. Now we should have a debate on street preachers.  “In a secular country, there’s no reason to have calls to prayer.”

Mr Sarkozy hopes to pull the rug from under the feet of the Front National by making radical Islam incompatible with the values of France.

He has made it one of the priorities for 2011 in the run-up to next year’s presidential election, echoing his words in last week’s televised talk with French citizens: “The truth is that in all our democracies we have been too preoccupied with the identity of those who arrived and not enough with the identity of the country that welcomed them.”

REUTERSHean-Francois Cope secretary general of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said the debate would examine issues such as the financing and building of mosques, the contents of Friday sermons and the education of the imams delivering them.

The growth of a Muslim minority in recent decades has posed new challenges that lead to sometimes heated debates. The government banned headscarves in state schools in 2004 and outlawed full face veils in public last year. But there are no rules
about halal meals in schools, for example, or whether Muslims can pray in the streets outside an overcrowded mosque.

The French government held a country-wide debate on national identity in 2009-2010 that preceded the full face veil ban. Many Muslims criticised the debate, saying it turned into a forum to stigmatise them and let people air biased views about Islam.

Marine Le Pen, daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, stole a march on the UMP in December when she compared Muslims praying in the streets to the wartime Nazi occupation“Marine Le Pen is getting ratings higher than her father, so at 18 months before the presidential election, you can see why it’s getting urgent (for the UMP) to debate the place of Muslims in France and how they practice their religion,” said RTL radio commentator Marie-Bénédicte Allaire.