Muslims banned from praying in streets of France

 Sarkozy wants the scene of Muslims praying in the streets of France to be made illegal.
Hands up if you were shocked when you heard that Muslims have been banned from praying in the streets of Paris? In the past few years, under the Presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, Muslims have often found themselves the target of, sinister and entirely political, Government discussion.
Earlier this year, the ban of the niqab came into force and Muslim women are no longer given the choice of wearing the veil. Without any doubt, this move was good for those women who were previously forced to wear the niqab but when we consider that France was facing an unemployment rate of 9.6% and that only 2000 women wear the niqab, the President’s aims become starkly more apparent. With the Presidential elections around the corner, Sarkozy policies are aimed at seducing the far-right, with hope that they will vote for the UMP next year.

In the same month Sarkozy’s party, the UMP, hosted a debate on secularism but the issues centred around Islam; amongst the topics were halal meat being served in schools, the niqab and Muslims praying on the streets. In these very discussions, Interior Minister of France, Claude Gueant, declared, “The increase in the number of faithful in (Islam)…poses a problem.”

If we take into account that Gueant, Sarkozy’s life-long âme damnée (devoted follower) had been appointed barely a month earlier, the stench of Sarkozy’s desperation is hard to miss. With an approval rating of 33%, Sarkozy has a fair climb ahead of him is he is to woo more supporters.

Taking a step back, this latest move by the French government is fantastically intelligent. Not only has the Government prohibited Muslims from praying in the street, it appears that they have found a solution too; they have managed to find a way to make everyone happy. After all, some French citizens did not want to see Muslims praying in the streets, Muslims did not want to pray in the streets anyway and the Government has helped mosques to find some extra space.

Yet what many have failed to recognise is that this problem, that Muslims have to pray outside has been constructed by past French governments. Essentially, as President of French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), the official body set up by the French Government in 2003, Dalil Boubakeur puts it, there are not enough mosques in the country. Indeed, the rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris says at least 4400 mosques are needed, more than two times the current number.

The president of the French Council of Islam, Mohammed Moussaoui, revealed to a French radio station last month that there are between 100 and 150 mosques currently being built. This, however, does not tell the true story; although many have requested planning permission to build mosques, the incumbent government has more often than not rejected the construction.

If the leadership of the country had reacted to the problem earlier, it would never have become an issue. Muslims would not have had to dodge cars and bikes in their quest to pray within a community and they would be praying in safety inside a mosque.

Neither would Marine le Pen, the head of far-right National Front (FN), have been able to so obstinately compare Muslims praying on the streets to “an occupation” last December; it was her statement that made this a mainstream concern. This powerful metaphor was used to bring back memories of the terrible Nazi occupation in certain regions of Paris and if it worked, many of her followers would be praising Sarkozy. I can only assume that she is sitting somewhere horrendously upset, wishing that she could have made these terrible remarks closer to the elections.

While Muslims are being used in a cruel political game, the only real winners are the Socialist party. Some may argue however, that Muslims have benefited to some extent; through this victimisation, certain Muslims have started to radiate courage. The same man who has set aside a €1m fund to pay for those who are fined for wearing the niqab, Rachid Nekkaz, has also set up an association which has boldly announced that it will be putting forward a niqab-clad women to compete in the 2012 presidential elections.

With many arguing that this policy does not target Muslims and has been adopted in order to comply with their 1905 law which separates religion and the state. This claim however, is easily debunked; Catholics have not been banned from praying in the streets – Gueant has even argued that large Catholic events should not be compared to Muslims in the streets.

With Sarkozy holding the Presidency during a period of rising unemployment, as well as being seen as increasingly insincere, France’s left-wing have a real chance of being elected into office next year. The only question to ask is whether they will maintain their principles and dignity or they will slowly move closer to the French right, abandoning their voters and the citizens who are looking for a change.

By By Siraj Datoo.


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