The mosque at Lunel, a small southern town from which up to 30 people left to join terrorist groups in Syria or Iraq, or to accompany those doing so: see this previous item
I recently completed a fairly comprehensive three-part series for The National* on France and Islam - and many of the issues of tolerance, integration and radicalisation that arise from such a broad subject. In the footnote, you will find links to each of the published items as they appeared at the newspaper's website.
For weeks, I badgered Ahmet Ogras, president the Conseil Français du Culte Musulman (the French Muslim Council, or CFCM) for an interview. Despite the demands of Ramadan, he finally agreed but, unfortunately, a little too late for inclusion in the series, though I had hoped to squeeze in a short article to accompany the last instalment.
An appearance at Salut! is modest consolation but it feels right to find space at least here for Mr Ogras's thoughts, especially with the Emmanuel Macron initiative on the organisation of the religion in France thought to be imminent ....
The leading French Muslim institution under threat from the radical overhaul planned by President Emmanuel Macron has warned him to avoid adopting a far right or populist approach.
Ahmet Ogras, president of the French Muslim Council (the Conseil français du culte musulman, or CFCM), says that only with Muslim consent can Mr Macron bring change.
France’s youngest president, one year into his term of office and still only 40, is committed to the fundamental restructuring of France’s main religion after Catholicism, not least because of the association of minority Islamic elements with terrorism.
How far he is willing to go is expected to be revealed when he makes a long-awaited major speech between the end of Ramadan in mid-June and the national holiday of Bastille day a month later.
Persistent speculation in French media, including influential Muslim news outlets, suggests that Mr Macron has looked favourably at suggestions that the CFCM should be replaced by a new body, possibly a “consistory” institution with a Grand Iman as figurehead.
The CFCM is understood to resent its exclusion from the consultative process undertaken by the president since he announced in February that a major review was under way into the way Islam is organised in France. The responses from Mr Ogras to questions from The National do nothing to challenge this impression.
Asked what he hoped to hear from Mr Macron in his promised speech, he said: “The president of the republic is the guarantor of the constitution and respect for the application of its laws.
“France is secular, but her people are not secular. The restructuring of Muslim worship in France can be achieved only by Muslims. Otherwise, he embraces the work of the extreme right and populism.”
Critics of the CFCM, founded by a former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, when interior minister in 2003, say it cannot be regarded as the most effective or representative of bodies to represent France’s large but diverse Muslim population.
But Mr Ogras insists that it brings together all of France’s main Muslim federations and associations.
“We are in a period of reflection on our own re-organisation and will consult our community via the web and through field meeting,” he said.
On speculation concerning a consistory body and grand imam of France, he was equally adamant: “He can do nothing without the approval of the associations and federations.”
Mr Ogras was asked to identify the most important measures Mr Macron’s government should take to guarantee Muslims equal opportunities in education, employment and housing. He replied simply: “To fight Islamophobia.”
On the question of whether bodies suspected of links with the Muslim Brotherhood had a valid a role to play “in defending French Muslims and in seeking social harmony”, he offered a diplomatic response: “We need everyone.”
* Part one of the series for The National, published in Abu Dhabi: Macron to tackle France's troubled relationship with organised Islam
* Part two: "Can France's new plan counter radicalisation?
* Part three: France's divided response to Islam and extremism