Paris—French anti-terrorism authorities Friday opened an inquiry into death threats against a philosophy teacher who has been forced into hiding over a newspaper column attacking Islam, legal officials said.
Robert Redeker, 52, is receiving round-the-clock police protection and changing addresses every two days, after publishing an article describing the Koran as a “book of extraordinary violence” and Islam as “a religion which . . . exalts violence and hate”.
He told i-TV television he had received several e-mail threats targeting himself and his wife and three children, and that his photograph and address were available on several Islamist Internet sites.
“There is a very clear map of how to get to my home, with the words: ‘This pig must have his head cut off’,” he said.
Speaking on RMC radio, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said such threats were “unacceptable”.
“We are in a democracy, everyone has the right to express his views freely—of course while respecting others. That is the only restriction that is acceptable on this freedom.
“This shows to what extent we live in a dangerous world . . . and how vigilant we must be to ensure people fully respect one another in our society.”
The Paris state prosecutor’s office Friday launched a preliminary inquiry for “criminal conspiracy in relation with a terrorist enterprise”, asking the DST intelligence agency to look into the death threats.
But despite the government’s assurances of support, Redeker accused the authorities of leaving him “alone and abandoned”.
Interviewed over the telephone from a safe house by Europe 1 radio Friday, he said that “the education ministry has not even contacted me, has not deigned to get in touch to see if I need any help.”
On Thursday Education Minister Gilles de Robien expressed “solidarity” with the teacher, but also warned that “a state employee must show prudence and moderation in all circumstances.”
Redeker said that “if Robien is correct, then we would never have had any intellectual life in France. The function of politics is not tell us what we are allowed to think, but to defend our freedom to think and speak out.”
The issue, as it relates to Islam, is a sensitive one in France, which has Europe’s biggest Muslim community, estimated at six million or around 10 percent of the population.
Le Figaro, which published Redeker’s article on September 19, printed a front-page open letter from the editors Friday expressing solidarity with him and “condemning with the greatest severity the grave attacks on freedom of thought and expression that this affair has provoked.”
Redeker wrote the piece in reaction to the fury unleashed in Muslim countries by Pope Benedict XVI’s references to Islam in an address in Germany two weeks ago.
Under the heading “In the face of Islamist intimidation, what must the free world do?”, he denounced the “Islamisation of spirits” in France and claimed that “Islam is trying to make Europe yield to its vision of mankind.”
Likening Islam to Communism, Redeker said that “violence and intimidation are the methods used by an expansionist ideology . . . to impose its leaden cloak on the world”.
He also compared the Prophet Mohammed unfavourably to Jesus Christ, describing the founder of Christianity as a “master of love” and the founder of Islam as a “master of hate”.
“Exaltation of violence, a merciless war-leader, a pillager, a massacrer of Jews and a polygamist—this is the picture of Mohammed that emerges from the Koran,” he wrote.
Subsequently Redeker was denounced on Al-Jazeera television by the influential Qatari Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and that day’s edition of Le Figaro was banned in Egypt and Tunisia.
Speaking on Europe 1, he said his detractors had “already won a victory of sorts.”
“I cannot do my job. I have no freedom of movement. I am in hiding. Already they have succeeded in punishing me . . . as if I was guilty of holding the wrong opinions.”
Lyon—French women’s rights group Regards de femmes is demanding that the authorities bar a controversial Muslim scholar Hani Ramadan—who has publicly advocated death by stoning for women who commit adultery—from entering the country next month to take up a teaching post.
The president of Regards de femmes, Michele Vianes, has this week sent a letter, co-signed by number of prominent French figures, including several former ministers, to interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy demanding he keep Ramadan out of France. He is due to teach a series of courses a the newly formed Shatibi centre in the city of Lyon, beginning on 14 October. The Shatibi centre was founded by a group of young Muslims and offers courses in Islamic studies and the Arabic language.
“Who can we tolerate the teachings of Hani Ramadan and others who advocate Islamic (Shariah) law, when their writing and publications are fundamentally alien and antithetical to the values and principles of the French Republic?” Vianes asks in the petition, quoted by Le Figaro.
The letter calls on Sarkozy to deny entry to France to “all religious teachers, who transmit the totalitarian ideology of the Sharia, and who do not recognise either the authority or the rights of democratic states and who are contrary to the constitutional principles of secularism and equality between men and women.”
Ramadan, who currently heads the Islamic Centre in the Swiss city of Geneva—was dismissed from his post in 2003 a few months after making remarks publicly defending lapidation for women guilty of adultery and likening this “deviant behaviour” to that of people who who expose themselves to HIV infection. Ramadan subsequently won two court appeals forcing the Swiss cantonal authorities to reinforce him in his post.