In France, far right seizes on Muslim street prayers
(Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)
A call to prayer goes up from a loudspeaker perched on the hood of a car, and all at once hundreds of Muslim worshippers touch their foreheads to the ground, forming a sea of backs down the road. The scene is taking place not in downtown Cairo, but on a busy market street in northern Paris, a short walk from the Sacre Coeur basilica. To locals, it’s old news: some have been praying on the street, rain or shine, for decades.
But for Marine Le Pen — tipped to take over from her father this weekend as leader of the far-right National Front party — it is proof that Muslims are taking over France and becoming an occupying force, according to remarks she made last month.
Her comments caused a furore as she seized on the street prayers to drive home the idea that Islam is threatening the values of a secular country where anxiety over the role of Muslims in society has deepened in the past few years.
More than two thirds of French and German people now consider the integration of Muslims into their societies a failure, pollster IFOP said in a survey published on Jan. 5. In France, where Islam is the second-largest religion after Catholicism, 42 percent saw it as a threat to national identity.
“This has become a key political issue,” said Frederic Dabi, IFOP’s head of research. “Street prayers and the perceived growing influence of Islam are seen as impinging on French values of secularism, communal living.”