France was today attacked by religious leaders for organising a ‘poisonous’ national debate about the growing number of Muslims living in the country.
They accused President Nicolas Sarkozy of trying to attract racist voters by holding the all-party political discussion next Tuesday.
It will see people complaining about numerous aspects of Islamic life, from its links with terrorist groups to the wearing of burkas.
But French Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Buddhists today joined Muslim leaders in published a joint statement saying the debate would cause ‘confusion in the troubled period we are going through.’
With the French airforce currently joining the RAF in pouring bombs and missiles on Muslims in Libya and Afghanistan, the leaders believe that Gallic followers of Islam will be stigmatised even further.
The statement points to the championing of irreligious secularism by the debate’ s organisers, rather than a form of secularism embracing all religions, including Islam.
‘Do we need, in the current climate, a debate on secularism?’ says the statement. ‘Is a political party, even if it is in the majority, the right entity to lead such a debate alone?’
The religious leaders said secularism should be ‘a foundation of our desire to live together’, warning against: ‘lumping things together and so risking stigmatisation.”
Former presidential candidate Francois Bayrou, leader of the France’s Democratic Movement, said the debate would spread ‘poison’ around the six million odd Muslims who live in France.
With a general election due next year, Mr Sarkozy’s governing UMP party has been trying to win votes from the far right National Front party.
It has already succeeded in banning the burka, and other forms of Muslim head coverings, and has stressed its opposition to worshippers praying openly on French streets.
But UMP leader Jean-Francois Cope, who pushed for the debate, issued an open letter to Muslims this week saying he wanted a new ‘Code of Secularity’ that would keep schools and other institutions entirely religion-free.
‘The practice of Islam in a secular nation is not the burka not prayers in the street, nor the rejection of diversity,’ said Mr Cope.
The national debate about Islam and secularism will take place a week before France’s burka ban officially comes into force.