France continues to wrestle with the implications of its large Muslim population. Now our old friend Dominique de Villepin (he’s the interior minister now) is advocating the training of ‘French’ imams. Such a notion may sound strange to Americans schooled in the tradition of separation of church and state, but it’s not a bad idea, particularly when one considers the current reality:
“The problem of radical Islamic clerics preaching a message contrary to French law and values is a pressing one: government figures show 27 Muslim prayer leaders have been deported on public order or human rights grounds since 2001 – more than half of them since last July. Abdelkader Bouziane, the 52-year-old imam of a Lyon mosque, said in an interview that the Koran authorised husbands to hit their wives, that polygamy was right, that women were not men’s equals and that music was a sin. Asked whether he approved of the stoning of unfaithful wives, he replied: “Yes.” He was deported on Wednesday, a week after Abdelkader Yahia Cherif. The self-proclaimed imam of Brest in Brittany had asked his congregation to “rejoice in the Madrid bombings” that killed 191 people.
“According to the interior ministry, France’s 5 million-strong Muslim community, Europe’s largest, is ministered to by between 1,000 and 1,500 imams. Only 10% of them are believed to be citizens, less than half speak French, and “probably a majority” are illegal immigrants. Most hail from abroad – 40% from Morocco, 24% from Algeria, 16% from Turkey and 6% from Tunisia – where any advanced religious training they receive is increasingly likely to be in fundamentalist Islamist views that clash with secular French laws.”
The struggle against extremist Islam is a battle that will be fought as much within Islam as from the outside. De Villepin’s move is welcome recognition of that fact.