Sarkozy snubbed by his own prime minister as Islam debate convulses France ahead of burqa ban

With France's Muslims representing 10 percent of the population and growing, the country's political leadership is split on what to do

Burqa ban in France from Monday
The Commentator
On 6 April 2011 07:28

Just one week before the implementation of France’s controversial burqa ban, President Nicolas Sarkozy has suffered yet another serious blow to his credibility after deep splits emerged in his party over a debate about Islam in France.

On Tuesday, Sarkozy’s UMP party held a conference in Paris to address widespread public concerns about Sharia law and immigration in a country where Muslims make up at least 10 percent of the population and are dominant in large sections of several major cities.

The event was boycotted by France’s main Muslim group, but also by Sarkozy’s own prime minister, Francois Fillon, some of his ministers and even some of the president’s aides causing what the France 24 news channel described as “the biggest rupture in the UMP since Sarkozy began his reign four years ago.”

Mr.Fillon said the gathering risked “stigmatizing” Muslims, and he and other UMP dissenters accuse Sarkozy of a blatant attempt to bolster his party’s paltry opinion poll ratings by appealing to supporters of the far-right National Front party now headed by Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the veteran populist-nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen.

But Sarkozy and others believe that political correctness has held sway for too long in France and that basic French values are being undermined. In order to deflect charges of intolerance towards the Muslim community the conference was billed as a defence of secularism in general, though few doubt that its primary purpose was to address problems associated with Islam.

Analysts say that as Muslim populations rise across (western) Europe, mainstream parties will have to face the conundrum of how to mount a credible defence of western values without rekindling the flame of ethnic nationalism. Far right parties have seen a resurgence across many parts of Europe in recent years on the back of public resentment over large scale immigration.

In recent months German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have turned their attention to the related question of multiculturalism, both denouncing it as a failure. Mr. Cameron said it should be replaced with a “muscular liberalism”. But his remarks caused divisions with his deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, again illustrating that mainstream political leaders across the continent have a long way to go before they reach a consensus on what to do about Islam in Europe.

The French burqa ban goes into effect next Monday.

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