France to double Islamic university courses to counter extremism

Reuters / Youssef Boudlal
Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, announced that the number of university courses teaching Islam will be doubled from six to 12, and paid for by the state in an effort to stem the influence of French imams being funded by foreign sources.

Valls said Tuesday that making home-grown Islamic education better in France was crucial to stamping out ignorance that is making “Islamist extremism and the far right feed off each other.”

His speech in the eastern city of Strasbourg follows the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in January and a recent surge in support for the anti-immigration National Front Party led by Marine Le Pen.

France and Germany have western Europe’s largest Muslim population, according to Pew estimations, and the National Front are currently leading the polls in the regional elections which are due to take place next month.

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“The rise of far-right populist politics, in Europe as well as in our own country, feeds directly off the rise of jihadism, terrorism and radical extremism. It is a situation that puts our democracy, our society and our capacity to live together in extreme jeopardy,” said Valls.

The National Front party procured 25 percent of the votes in the latest EU elections, and took over a dozen municipalities in elections in 2014. It has also secured a historic victory the same year, grabbing two seats in the upper house of parliament for the first time.

Recently in an opinion piece in The New York Times, Marine Le Pen criticized the government and the political establishment for “20 years of mistakes” on immigration and Europe. She added that immigration offered a fertile ground for the creation of radical Islam.

The Prime Minister said that if important religious figures like imams and prison chaplains were trained in France and not abroad then they would be able “to speak French fluently and to understand the concept of secularism”, which is core to the values of the French Republic.

“But there will be no laws, decrees or government directives to define what Islam means. The French state will never attempt to take control of a religion,” he added.

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Valls was accompanied by the Minister for Education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, and the Minster of the Interior and Religious Affairs, Bernaud Cazeneuve, during the meeting with Muslim leaders at the Grand Central Mosque in Strasbourg.

The meeting follows statements made in the Senate in February and the creation of the so-called “forum for dialogue” with Islam in France.

In January, the French government launched a 425 million euro anti-terror plan and launched a special website designed to inform the public on ways to prevent radicalization.