French minister pledges zero tolerance for Islamists

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 27, 2012 5:05 PM
French minister pledges zero tolerance for Islamists

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - French Interior Minister Manuel Valls warned Islamists on Thursday that preaching hatred in France would not be tolerated, telling hardliners as he inaugurated a mosque that they would be expelled if they challenged the Republic's principles.

Valls' message underscored the tough line that President Francois Hollande's government has taken towards Islamists who were furious over the publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammad in a French magazine last week.

While Socialist officials criticized Charlie Hebdo magazine over the cartoons, calling them a provocation, they banned protests against the images, denying requests by Muslim groups to hold marches in the name of free speech.

"I will not accept Salafist behavior or any other group that defies the Republic," Valls told religious leaders in an inauguration ceremony for a mosque in Strasbourg.

"The Republic will be intransigent with anyone who seeks to challenge it and I won't hesitate to expel those who invoke the name of Islam and represent a threat to public order and who, as foreigners in our country, don't respect our laws and values."

Speaking in front of mosaic-patterned walls at the newly completed Grand Mosque of Strasbourg, Valls distinguished between two types of Islam: one that seeks to belong to France, and one that seeks to supersede its way of life.

Former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, to whom Valls is often compared due to his taste for tough rhetoric, frequently drew a line between different forms of Islam.

Although President Hollande has largely used softer rhetoric than Sarkozy did on the subject his government's policies towards France's Muslim minority - the largest of any European country - have diverged little from those of his predecessor.

Valls also used the mosque's inauguration to say more prayer sites for Muslims needed to be built, an issue that arose during Sarkozy's term with a controversy over illegal street prayers.

"To avoid people praying in basements or in the street, the Muslims of France have a right to dignified prayer sites," Valls said, adding that the government would soon propose new measures for financing the construction of prayer sites.

The Strasbourg mosque, which was designed by Italian architect Paolo Portoghesi and seats 1,500 worshippers, was completed after more than 20 years of infighting between right- and left-wing administrations in Strasbourg.

(Reporting By Gilbert Reilhac; Writing by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Andrew Osborn)