Islam's role in France: fuel for latest firestorm

24th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 24, 2006 (AFP) - A claim by a French politician that Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris has been infiltrated by Islamic militants ignited a fierce controversy Monday.

PARIS, April 24, 2006 (AFP) - A claim by a French politician that Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris has been infiltrated by Islamic militants ignited a fierce controversy Monday.

A union representing workers at the airport called the allegation a "political stunt", while the opposition Socialist Party and a national Muslim group labelled the politician responsible an Islamophobe.

Philippe de Villiers, the head of the right-wing Movement for France (MPF) party, made the contentious assertion in a book released last week titled 'The Mosques of Roissy'.

In it he rails against radical Islam in France and alleges that Islamic militants have found jobs among the airport's personnel in secure areas through which luggage and passengers transit.

Some of the luggage-handling firms contracted by the facility employ "predominantly Muslims and are organised on ethnic and religious criteria under a mafia-like system," he wrote.

Elaborating on his claims in a broadcast interview Sunday, Villiers said: "The presence of Islamic radicals is not marginal, it's real, deeply-rooted and dangerous."

Villiers, whose movement rallies Catholic and nationalistic tendencies in French politics, also confirmed he would be a candidate in next year's presidential elections. The last time he ran, in 1995, he scored less than five percent of the vote in the first of two rounds.

France's police intelligence and surveillance service, the Renseignements Généraux (RG), cast doubt on one document Villiers said it had produced to support his allegation and which he reproduced in his book.

RG chief Pascal Mailhos told the interior ministry, in a note quoted by Le Monde newspaper, that the document in Villier's book did not come from his service and that it contained "several flagrant inconsistencies".

Sud Aérien, a union at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, said in a statement that "it's obvious we're dealing with a political stunt by a future candidate" in next year's elections.

It accused Villiers of trying to secure the far-right vote "by developing racist and paranoid themes on Islamic radicals".

"While the danger of a terrorist attack can't be ignored, the main danger for the unions is that this risk might be used as a pretext for ethnic discrimination and as a weapon against strikes," it said.

The head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Dalil Boubakeur, who is also rector at the mosque in Paris, said Villier's allegations created "an outrageous caricature" of Islam, and demanded that they be fully investigated.

The spokesman for the Socialist Party, Julien Dray, told a media conference that Villier's comments stigmatised the estimated five million Muslims living in France and said they were "not compatible" with the country's secular traditions.

Coincidentally, the furore over Villier's book blew up as the state-owned operator of Roissy and other airports around the capital, Aéroports de Paris, said Monday that it was preparing for privatisation if the government so orders.

The finance ministry said last Friday it would sell ADP shares in the coming months in an offering expected to raise up to EUR 1.5 billion.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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