IMAM ASSIMILATION A LA FRANCAISE
By R. John Matthies
France, far from those "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" depicted in "The Simpsons," has distinguished itself (since the Paris terror bombings of 1986, especially) as a nation uniquely disposed to trample toes of intolerant faith. For better or for worse, the practice of religion – since the Revolution and the Law of Separation (1905), especially – has become, for the State, no less than a matter of public order and public safety. For this reason, the policing of even "non-violent radicals" and radical clerics has become something of a national pastime.
Consider the case of Salafist cleric Abdelkader Bouziane, deported back to Algeria in April, 2004, for an interview, published in the local Lyon Mag, in which the Imam defends polygamy and promotes, "in certain cases," the stoning of adulterous wives. The Ministry of the Interior slapped Bouziane with an order of expulsion within days of his remarks, on the strength of a prior order (signed by then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy) that identified Bouziane as a danger to State and to public safety. This, in turn, allowed the government to ignore established protections for the safeguard of resident aliens, and to deport the cleric back to Oran.
All was as planned when a Lyons appeals court judged Interior's order "lacking," and ordered the Imam returned to France. But, in a fit a pique, Sarkozy declared:
Then President Jacques Chirac agreed, and promised:
This they did, and dismissed the appeals court ruling at the level of the State Council, France's highest administrative authority. And Bouziane was returned to Algeria in October of the same year. "Constitutionally."
The Netherlands (and others) have envied France's unobstructed hand in matters of policing radical clerics; but the security services warn that, if expulsion prevents Bouziane from "exercising his profession," it cannot prevent similarly oriented imams – or self-proclaimed prayer leaders – from falling in place. For this reason, the Ministry of Interior proposes to privilege "assimilation" and acculturation of France's next generation's imams, and has seized on an unorthodox (so to speak) method.
Seizing on a program suggested by Dominique de Villepin three years ago, the Catholic Institute of Paris (ICP), in conjunction with the Grand Mosque of Paris, has announced it's "on course" to admit some 30 imams to a "secularizing" course of study – complementary to the Mosque's own training cycle. (The public Sorbonne and suburban Paris-VIII, Interior's first pick in the matter, respectfully declined for reasons of "secularism.")
The ICP program, titled "Religions, Secularism, Interculturality," will offer 400 hours of accredited instruction in four subject areas: one devoted to "general culture," including a history of "republican values"; a second for legislative matters, which will examine the rights and obligations of religion in France; a third on the subject of "openness," to explore religion's relation to the human sciences; and a fourth on "intercultural exchange." More exactly, France's future imams will be asked to ponder French secular tradition, read their Rousseau and Voltaire, and imbibe tremendous amounts of grammar.
But this strategy, too, will require effort: Opposed to the plan is the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (UOIF), France's largest Islamic organization (which operate non-accredited centers of its own), and members of the Grand Mosque itself. There is also the fact this is, as yet, a voluntary course, open only to those qualified for study at the university level. This would exclude imams like Bouziane, and the hundreds of makeshift or homegrown clerics on the radar of the security services at present.
But this is the modest debut one should expect in these matters, and signals a willingness on the part of France to define standards of comportment for the second religion of the land – and to acknowledge, as former mufti of Marseille Soheib Bensheikh has suggested, that "French-style secularism is a necessary precondition for the reform of Islam." "Ideally, it would have been a classic university to respond to this request," says Didier Leschi, Religion Chief at Interior, "but we advance with those willing to advance." And for those who disagree? Ask Bouziane.
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FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor R. John Matthies is Assistant Director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The foregoing article by R. John Matthies was originally published in Family Security Matters, November 13, 2007, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat.
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