Turkey opposed to the creation of French Islam
While a military offensive towards Idlib by regime forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad seems to have been averted for some time, the fact remains that thousands of terrorists remain trapped on the Turkish-Syrian border.
One would expect a sense of alarm among European countries about the possible return of foreign terrorist fighters to their country of origin, increasing the threat for potential terrorist attacks, especially in countries like France which is closely involved in Syria.
Yet France, for instance, is preoccupied these days by another concern which some French officials might call “the non-violent stance of some Muslims that threaten social cohesion” – a preoccupation that a French official talking to a Turkish interlocutor could define as the development of a “parallel society” of Muslims within France.
There are two reasons to why the debate has revived nowadays. The first is that the deadline that French President Emmanuel Macron set last July to give Islam “a framework and rules” by the fall is nearing, and the second is the publication on Sept. 9 of a new report by Institut Montaigne submitted to Macron which includes proposals to reform Islamic institutions in France.
The target of deadly terror attacks by Islamist fundamentalists, successive French governments have stepped up the fight against terrorism and radicalism, by rather focusing on the security dimension. The state of emergency ended last year after being in force for two years following deadly attacks in Paris in 2015.
The French state seems to have now increased its focus on the non-violent, yet what appears to the French authorities as equally disturbing tendencies within Muslim communities is that on the one hand can breed radical ideologies and can on the other hand hurt social harmony in the country. Practices such as abstention from school on Fridays, which is deemed as a holy day by Muslims, objection from parents to send their daughters to mixed sports classes or open disdain of Christians as “kafir-non believers” are on the rise, according to French officials and can in the long run pose significant threat to social peace.
Modernizing Islam or establishing an Islam of France is not a new phenomenon in the country. The French Council of the Muslim Faith was established for instance by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, when he was an interior minister in 2003.
But regulating a religion is an extremely challenging mission especially for a country with secular tradition like France.
That’s why there are comments in the French press that Macron is taking his time before taking action.
The subject is diplomatically sensitive as one of the dimensions of the “reform” that is being sought after entails the weakening of the links between Muslim communities and their countries of origin like Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The failure of the French Council is blamed on the links the members of the council have with their countries of origin which creates divisions within the council.
Turkey, on the other hand, stands vehemently opposed to the efforts of “modernizing Islam,” or creating an “Islam of France.”
The semi-official Anadolu Agency has recently run a commentary titled “A colonialist view from France: Debates on ‘French Islam.’” The article endorsed a critical tone on the possibility of replacing the Muslim Council (which is currently presided over by a French citizen of Turkish origin) by another entity.
Turkey opposes these initiatives because it does not want to lose its influence over the Turkish communities, according to French officials.
If and when Macron comes out with a new strategy, this might become another cause of a difficult conversation which Macron often complains about having with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.