Chirac slams scheme to fund mosques

14th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

MARSEILLE, France, Nov 14 (AFP) - In a major broadside, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Sunday rejected a senior government minister's idea of using state funds to build mosques and train Islamic religious leaders.

MARSEILLE, France, Nov 14 (AFP) - In a major broadside, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Sunday rejected a senior government minister's idea of using state funds to build mosques and train Islamic religious leaders.

Chirac obliquely accused his arch rival - Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to seek his job in the 2007 presidential election - of trying to "open up a new and pointless debate in France on topics that enjoy consensus."

Raffarin said for the government to get mixed up in religion in any way would undermine the very foundations of the French republic, which is based on a strict separation of church and state.

Reflecting concern about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, Sarkozy is quoted as saying in a new book that it was "preferable for youth to have spiritual hope than to have in their heads the religion of violence, drugs or money," and arguing that the state should be allowed to help minority faiths struggling to assert themselves amid the Roman Catholic majority.

Without mentioning Sarkozy by name, Raffarin likened those who hold such views to "sorcerer's apprentices" threatening the basis of the republic.

Sarkozy recently described the republic and religion as complementary, but Raffarin said it was vital to preserve intact a 1905 law on the separation of church and state.

He said secularism was the glue that kept society together, allowing people of various faiths to coexist and keeping the republic free of the pressures of religion.

"That is why we need to defend it and - I say this clearly - not to become sorcerer's apprentices who could, in questioning this law, which is a law of equilibrium, unsettle what today is the very organisation of our republic," Raffarin said.

Speaking at a youth forum in Marseille, Chirac said the secular principle was "an essential element of our social cohesion."

The 1905 law was a kind of "pillar of the temple," he added. "We would do well in general to respect it and not seek too much to open up a new and pointless debate in France on topics that enjoy consensus."

France this year strengthened separation between religion and the state by banning the wearing of any prominent religious insignia such as large crosses, Jewish skullcaps or Muslim headscarves in state schools. This provoked protest from France's large Muslim community.

Speaking at a congress of the Radical party in Saint-Etienne, Raffarin rejected the notion that secularism as practiced here was in any way closed, restrictive or aggressive.

It was, he stated, "basically, the expression of respect for the other."

Debate over the issue was likely to intensify as France marks the centenary of the separation law next year.

Raffarin said he hoped to make secularism a principle that would acquire more force and modernity, "but certainly not to unbalance the law that is an element of stability in our republic."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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