French religious leaders warn against divisive Islam debate
The leaders of France’s six main religions warned the government on Wednesday against a planned debate on Islam they say could stigmatise Muslims and fuel prejudice as the country nears national elections next year. Weighing in on an issue that is tearing apart President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, the Conference of French Religious Leaders said the discussion about respect for France’s secular system could only spread confusion at a turbulent time.
The UMP plans to hold a public forum on secularism next week that critics decry as veiled Muslim-bashing to win back voters who defected to the far-right National Front at local polls last week and could thwart Sarkozy’s reelection hopes in 2012.
Stressing that faith should foster social harmony, the religous leaders said the debate could “cloud this perspective and incite confusion that can only be prejudicial .”
“Is a political party, even if it is in the majority, the right forum to lead this by itself?” they asked in the rare statement (here in French).
Amid the heated debate over the issue, a lay Muslim politician caused a stir by suggesting Muslims wear a five-pointed green star to protest against what he called persecution recalling that of wartime Jews forced by the Nazis to wear a yellow Star of David. “This fascist climate evokes the sombre history of the Occupation in France, which sent thousands of Jews by train to the death camps,” said Abderrahmane Dahmane, who was fired as Sarkozy’s advisor for diversity issues this month after criticising the UMP debate.
Richard Prasquier, head of the Jewish umbrella group CRIF, called the green star idea “totally grotesque.”