The French president, François Hollande, has lashed out at politicians for twisting the French concept of secularism and insisted the country’s strict laws separating church and state do not prevent France’s large Muslim minority from practising their religion.
With less than eight months until the French presidential election, Hollande gave a sweeping speech on terrorism and democracy, setting out his vision and attempting to style himself as the defender of French values in opposition to hardline identity politics and calls on the right for a security crackdown.
He was clearly setting out his stall for a potential re-election bid next year, despite being the least popular French president on record: 88% of respondents to a recent poll said they did not want him to run again.
Hollande will not announce whether he will seek a second term until December, but he has been under pressure to shore up support within his fractured Socialist party amid rows over the economy and anger and grief after a series of mass terror attacks.
Against a backdrop of a heated political debate about secularism, Islam and human rights after a number of coastal resorts banned burkinis, Hollande warned against perverting the real meaning of French secularism and stigmatising Muslims.
Nothing in the idea of secularism opposes the practice of Islam in France, provided it respects the law, he said.
He said secularism was not a state religion to be used against other religions.
The state guaranteed the right to believe or not to believe as long the demonstration of that belief did not disrupt public order, he added.
Asking whether Islam could co-exist with a secular French state, like Christianity and Judaism, he insisted: My answer is yes, certainly.
The question the republic must answer is: is it really ready to make place for a religion that it did not expect to be this big over a century ago? There too, my answer is yes, certainly.
Without directly referencing the burkini bans, Hollande clearly ruled out any nationwide ban on full-body swimwear or new laws on the Muslim headscarf – key demands of the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is seeking to become his party’s nominee for next year’s election.
Hollande said: As long as I am president, there will be no legislation … that is as impossible to apply as it is unconstitutional.
Several towns around the country banned burkinis over the summer, citing secularism and a risk to public order. France’s top administrative court ruled last month that the bans were a serious and manifestly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms.
News Source TheGuardianNews