NYTimes.com Article: French Threaten Expulsions After Islam Radical Victory

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Wed Apr 16 11:23:13 PDT 2003

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French Threaten Expulsions After Islam Radical Victory

April 16, 2003


PARIS, April 15 - France's interior minister threatened
today to expel any Muslim religious leader considered
extremist after a fundamentalist Muslim organization
unexpectedly won a large number of seats in an election for
the country's first national council of Muslims. 

Nicolas Sarkozy, a law-and-order interior minister who
pressed hard for the creation of the council, told Europe 1
radio that he would make sure that the council would not be
used to spread views that run counter to French values,
particularly the promotion of Islamic law. 

"It is precisely because we recognize the right of Islam to
sit at the table of the republic that we will not accept
any deviation," Mr. Sarkozy said. "Any prayer leader whose
views run contrary to the values of the republic will be

At another point he said, "Islamic law will not apply
anywhere, because it is not the law of the French

Representatives of nearly 1,000 mosques and prayer centers
went to the polls on April 6 and last Sunday to elect
representatives to a council that will represent the
country's five million Muslims. The goal, Mr. Sarkozy said
repeatedly, is to create an "official Islam for France"
that will take France's second-largest religion out of the
"cellars and garages" and demonstrate that most Muslims are
mainstream, law-abiding citizens. About 20 percent of
France's mosques declined to take part. 

The group that made a surprisingly strong showing in the
election is the Union of Islamic Organizations in France.
It preaches a strict, conservative interpretation of Islam,
derives much of its support from the poor suburbs of Paris
and other major cities and is said to derive its
inspiration from the banned fundamentalist Muslim
Brotherhood, which originated in Egypt. It won 14 of 41
seats in the governing administrative council. 

The organization has come under fire from those who claim
it has close links with the Muslim Brotherhood, which calls
for Islamic rule via Islamic law, personal purification and
political action, and cannot be officially recognized by a
secular country like France. 

"This is a hidden movement, skilled in double talk, that
plays on the social frustrations of many young people,"
Addzidine Houassin, president of an Islamic group from the
Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, was quoted as saying in
today's editions of the newspaper Le Parisien. He added,
"The wolves have entered the manger." 

Mr. Houassin personally criticized Mr. Sarkozy, saying his
acceptance of the group has "created an Islam that has no
connection with the Islam of France." 

The "moderate" Islamic organization represented by the
Algerian-backed Paris Mosque and supported by Mr. Sarkozy
was expected to dominate the elections but received only
six seats in the council. A third group that is less
fundamentalist than the Union of Islamic Organizations in
France and close to the government of Morocco won 16 seats,
more than expected. 

Despite its weak showing, the rector of the Paris Mosque,
Dalil Boubaker, will automatically become the head of the
council under a compromise hammered out long before the
elections by the three main Muslim groups, under pressure
from Mr. Sarkozy. 

"There is neither victor nor vanquished," said Khalil
Merroun, rector of the mosque of Évry, who derives his
support from the group allied to Morocco. "This is victory
for Muslims." 

Unlike Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism, Islam
has no hierarchical structure in France, and the council
will give it a forum by which it can directly communicate
with the government. The other mainstream religions have
long had similar councils. 

But Paris's Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Jean-Marie
Lustiger, expressed concern on Sunday night on radio and
television that the council could nurture radicalism. He
complained that the French government was making Islam a
"state religion" because of government intrusion in the
organization of the council. 

Mr. Sarkozy said in an interview with Le Parisien published
today that such concerns were exaggerated. He added that he
was not worried about the support for the Union of Islamic
Organizations in France and said, "I have nothing against

In the interview with Europe 1, he said the council would
give the government "more latitude to fight against the few
imams who breach the law in advocating violence or
anti-Semitism." He added, "Those imams will be expelled."


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