Islam in Europe: Power Wars Spell Dead-End for French Muslim Council

May 8, 2008

Author: Staff Writer

Source: AFP

Five years after it was set up by Nicolas Sarkozy, France's official Muslim council has hit a wall: hamstrung by infighting, critics accuse it of failing the country's five million Muslims while giving fundamentalists a stronghold in French public life.

President Sarkozy created the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM) when he was interior minister to bring together the rival currents in French Islam and give an official voice to the country's second largest faith.

Charged with hands-on duties -- organising the pilgrimage to Mecca, appointing prison chaplains -- it was also intended to discourage what Sarkozy called the "Islam of basements and garages", sever French Islam from foreign influences and keep tabs on Islamic fundamentalists by including them.

But five years on, its track record is "zero", says Olivier Roy, a French specialist on Islam.

"It's just not working," he said. "On the training of imams, nothing, on appointing chaplains, nothing. On contributing to public debates, nothing."

"We've failed in our mission," admits Chems-eddine Hafiz, lawyer for the Great Mosque of Paris and a board member of the CFCM. "Our work has been crippled by conflict and rivalries between different camps."

Experts point the finger at interference by France's former colonies in north Africa, the original homeland of the overwhelming majority of French Muslims, that prevents the different communities from working together.

"This is a conflict between Morocco and Algeria for the control of France's Muslims," Roy said.