Demand for More Mosques in France Raises Tension
David Chazan, Telegraph, April 6, 2015
A call by Muslim leaders for the number of mosques in France to be doubled has aggravated community tensions barely three months after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
“We have 2,200 mosques and we need double that within two years,” the Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, told applauding French Muslims at a conference.
Many Muslims believe local authorities in France block applications to open or build mosques and prayer-rooms, leading to overcrowding and protests over prayers held in the streets.
However, the conservative daily Le Figaro said the comments by Dr Boubakeur, generally considered a moderate, were “provocative”.
The paper said he and other “mainstream” Muslim leaders had “lost control” of increasingly radical young French Muslims and “it is not the mass construction of new mosques that will change things”.
Commentator Yves Threard said French Muslim leaders had “no one but themselves to blame” as they had only condemned violence half-heartedly until Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in Paris in January.
“Their disorganisation, their rivalries and their silence are guilty and they explain, in part, the growing influence of the most fanatical ideas,” he said.
The demand for more mosques is unlikely to find favour with the government, still struggling to work out common strategies with Muslim leaders to combat radicalisation in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and concerned about a rise in support for the far-Right Front National.
Officials suggested Dr Boubakeur was exaggerating the number of French Muslims, which he estimates at seven million, although five million is the figure generally accepted. No official statistics by religion are kept under French law, but the country is home to western Europe’s largest Muslim population.
“We have the right to build mosques and mayors should not oppose this,” said Amar Lasfar, head of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF).
A spike in attacks against mosques and Muslim institutions has been reported since the Charlie Hebdo attacks, raising fears of a backlash.