STRASBOURG - France’s Socialist government vowed Thursday to do more to integrate the country’s Muslims but warned that it would not tolerate the country becoming a hotbed of Islamic radicalism.
But he also held out an olive branch to the country’s four million Muslims by promising state help for the construction of more mosques and for the training of Muslim clerics.
“Islam has its place in France because the Islam of France, it is a part of France,” he told representatives of the Catholic, Jewish and Protestant communities attending the official opening of the mosque capable of hosting 1,500 people.
Relations between the French state and a Muslim community that has its roots in former colonies Algeria and Morocco have been strained in recent years by a string of controversies pitting their faith against France’s secular tradition.
Legislation introduced under Sarkozy which bans women from wearing full veils in public is widely resented and long-running debates over halal methods of animal slaughter and whether public prayers should be authorised have added to tensions linked to the economic marginalisation of many Muslims.
Valls warned Thursday that he would not “hesitate to expel those who claim to follow Islam and represent a serious threat to public order and, as foreigners in our country, do not respect our laws and values.”
He also made it clear that the Muslim community as a whole had to accept responsibility for tackling extremism, 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.
“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.
“Anti-Semitism is a terrible scourge and its resurgence cannot be disguised.”
Built within two kilometres from Strasbourg’s celebrated cathedral, the new mosque has a capacity of 1,300 square metres, making it 1.5 times as big as the previous largest one in France, at Evry in the Paris suburbs.