French interior minister alternately praises and warns Muslims
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has vowed that France “will not hesitate” to expel Islamists. Speaking on September 27 at the opening of the largest mosque ever built in France, Valls said that France’s Socialist government will do more to integrate Muslims but will not tolerate Islamic radicalism. Valls said at the inauguration of the Strasbourg Grand Mosque, pledged that foreign activists trying to stir up trouble would be immediately deported.
Valls has been compared by some to former President Nicolas Sarkozy for his rhetoric. Howerver, he praised the Muslims of France for their response to the publication of cartoons satirizing Mohammed that were published by Charlie Hebdo, a French weekly magazine. "Islam has its place in France because the Islam of France, it is a part of France," Valls said as representatives of France’s historic Catholic, Jewish and Protestant stood by. The Grand Mosque is capable of hosting 1,500 people, and there was nearly standing-room only at the inauguration ceremony.
France has long experience in Muslim countries, having been a colonial power in much of North Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. Resentment still burns in countries such as Morocco and Algeria where atrocities were committed by French forces in the past. Relations have been strained in France itself because of the influx of Muslims to the Continent in which tenets of their faith have come athwart secular traditions.
Legislation was passed during the Sarkozy government that bans women wearing full veils or covering their faces. This restriction, as well as debates over traditional Muslim animal slaughter and public prayers, has added to tensions that are also piqued by economic marginalization of Muslims.
Public concern over the radicalization of young Muslims has spiked in the aftermath of the killing of school children in Toulouse earlier this year by a Muslim gunman, Mohamed Merah. French blogs often cite the fear that non-Muslims sense upon entering largely Muslim enclaves in French urban areas.
Valls said that the Muslim community must accept responsibility for tackling extremists in its midst ism, which he linked to a reemergence of anti-Semitism in the country. "France's Muslims can congratulate themselves on the singular model that they are building," Valls said. "Of course it remains fragile, not every problem has been solved or overcome.” He added, "If all religions have their share of fundamentalists, it is in Islam that this raises fears. It was on French soil and with a French passport that Mohammed Merah killed in the name of Islam.”
Alluding to the fact that Merah’s victims were Jewish, Valls said "Anti-Semitism is a terrible scourge and its resurgence cannot be disguised."
The Grand Mosque of Strasbourg is built within a mile of one of most celebrated and beautiful Catholic cathedrals of Europe. With a floor space of 14,000 square feet, it is one-and-a-half times are large as the mosque at Evry, which until now was the largest mosque in France. While it has no minaret, the Strasbourg mosque has a 50 foot copper dome. It took nearly twenty years to build and at a cost of $13.5 million. The government of the local region of France, as well as the governments of Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, chipped in.
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