French interior minister on Islam in France
Regional-France, Politics, 6/20/2003
Islam is not a synonym for terrorism, and it is a religion that deserves being given expression means, said French minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy.
There are 5 million Muslims in France. The debate over their integration and Islam's standing has only been delayed for too long, he said in an interview published Wednesday by Le Parisien.
Defending the recently created French Council of Muslim Cult (CFCM), Sarkozy added that secularism, France's republican ideal, must be guarantee that every citizen practices the religion they hold dear, in equality with all others.
Why would French Muslims not have the right to do so, in the same conditions as Catholics, Protestants and Jews? he wondered.
For Nicolas Sarkozy, who brushed aside claims that Islam is incompatibility with the republic system, "the genuine threat lies in doing nothing. It is stagnation that paved the way for an Islam of caves and garages."
Recalling that Islam is the most recent religion in France, the minister voiced hope that public authorities show the same patience with Muslims as it has done with all the others. "Let us not wage war against French Muslims," he said, rejecting the idea of a sectary secularism.
On the perspectives of adopting a law that bans the veil in schools, Sarkozy said he prefers to engage in dialogue first, constraint being the last resort. The law may be a starting point, not an end, he insisted, expressing fear that the constraint-only strategy may lead to the opposite of what one wants, and fuels radicalization.
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