French minister meets Muslim leaders to bridge gaps

France to set up educational projects to reach out to young Muslims and build mosques with French-speaking preachers.

    Muslim leaders and politicians in France have met Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to discuss the future of Islam in the country.

    Tensions are high between France and its Muslim community in the wake of a controversial ban of swimwear worn by some Muslim women, known as the burkini, and a string of recent attacks around the country.

    Inside Story - Can Islam be integrated with French secularism?

    At Monday's day-long meeting in the capital, Paris, Cazeneuve said he intended to establish a new foundation for aligning Muslims more with France's interpretation of secularism.  

    "The struggle against radical Islam should in no way be carried out against the Muslims in France, the vast majority of whom are republicans who simply want to live their religion in a dignified and peaceful way," said Cazeneuve. 

    READ MORE: France warns of Muslim stigmatisation 

    Al Jazeera's Sue Turton, reporting from Paris, said the meeting concluded with plans to set up three organisations to bridge a widening cultural and religious gap in French society.

    The first would look at the integration of the Muslim faith, the second at the building of mosques, and the third at Imams, our correspondent said. 

    "The state wants to try and have some sort of control over how Muslims are ... preached to in this country," said Turton, pointing to Cazeneuve's comments that the Imams would have to give sermons in French and not Arabic, and to "understand French values". 

    But some Muslim leaders at the conference said they were "quite skeptical" whether these organisations could make a difference, "especially with the younger generation, many of whom are marginalised and isolated in French society", said Turton. 

    Controversial ban

    Inside Story - French 'burkini' ban: secularism or security?

    The conference came after 30 French beach towns banned the burkini.

    A high court struck down the bans on Friday, but the high-pitched debate that quickly seeped into France's political sphere revealed raw tensions between the secular establishment and sectors of France's estimated five million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

    Abdallah Zekri, who heads the Observatory Against Islamophobia, told reporters that some people wanted to use burkinis to stigmatise Muslims, while politicians looking to the 2017 presidential race seized the issue "for vote-catching reasons", according to the AP news agency.

    READ MORE: Anger as Muslim women denied service at French eatery

    The meeting also came a day after a video emerged online appearing to show the head of a restaurant on the suburbs of Paris telling two Muslim women to "get out" after calling all Muslims "terrorists". 

    Several attacks in the country since last year have been claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) armed group.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News and agencies


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