France: Minister calls for security at mosques after attack

Interior minister Darmanin demands police presence after vandals target site in Rennes on the eve of Ramadan.

Muslim worshippers pray in the courtyard during Friday prayers at the Grande Mosquee de Pantin (Pantin Great Mosque) on the day of its reopening in Pantin, a northern Paris suburb, on April 9, 2021 [Photo by Christophe Archambault/AFP]

France’s interior minister has called for greater security for Muslim places of worship after vandals defaced the walls of a mosque days before the start of Ramadan.

Early on Sunday, a caretaker and members of the local Muslim community discovered graffiti on a mosque and Muslim cultural centre in the western city of Rennes.

The graffiti included tags insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, references to restarting the Crusades and a call for Catholicism to be made the state religion.

The prosecutor’s office in Rennes has launched an investigation.

Addressing reporters during a visit to the site, Minister of Interior Gerald Darmanin denounced the vandalism and expressed “solidarity” with France’s 5.7 million Muslims.

“The anti-Muslim inscriptions that have been inscribed on this cultural and religious centre are unacceptable,” Darmanin said. “Freedom of worship in France is a fundamental freedom.”

Translation: I am in Rennes this evening to demonstrate the government’s solidarity with the Muslims of our country. The anti-Muslim inscriptions that have been inscribed on this cultural and religious centre are unacceptable. Freedom of worship in France is a fundamental freedom!

He said he has asked French police and the gendarmerie, which is responsible for policing smaller towns rural areas, to “strengthen vigilance around Muslim places of worship … at the dawn of Ramadan”.

The holy month of Ramadan is set to commence on Tuesday, in line with the sighting of the new moon.

But there are mounting fears for the safety of French Muslims during the annual observance, during which Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset, amid a spate of ostensibly Islamophobic incidents in recent days.

In the western city of Nantes, the door of a mosque was destroyed by fire on Thursday night.

On Friday, a 24-year-old neo-Nazi was charged for making threats against a mosque in Le Mans, also in western France.

Abdallah Zekri, president of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, denounced what he called an anti-Islam climate.

“Unfortunately, the declarations of certain politicians are only making things worse,” he told the AFP news agency.

Paris pushes ‘anti-separatism’ bill

The latest incidents have taken place as France’s sometimes fragile relationship with its Muslim minority, the largest in Europe, is tested.

Recently, France’s Senate voted in favour of banning girls under the age of 18 from wearing the hijab in public. The hijab is a headscarf worn by many Muslim women and has been the subject of a decades-long feud in France.

The Senate’s move was tied to President Emmanuel Macron push to introduce a so-called “anti-separatism” bill.

Paris says the proposed legislation will bolster France’s secular system. But critics have denounced the bill, arguing it singles out Muslims.

The restriction on the wearing of the hijab is not yet law, with the National Assembly required to sign off on any amendments to the “anti-separatism” bill before they can take effect.

The National Assembly, which is dominated by Macron’s centrist La République En Marche (LREM) party, has already approved the original bill.

Amnesty International last month warned the draft law posed a “serious attack on rights and freedoms in France” and called for “many problematic provisions” of the bill to be scrapped or amended.

The legislation has been debated in a highly charged atmosphere in France after three attacks late last year, including the beheading on October 16 of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on free speech.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies