Since the Toulouse school massacre, Muslim religious extremism has become an issue in the French presidential elections.
The incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy is better placed to dominate this issue. As an analyst for one of the French polling organizations, BVA has written, the choice between Sarkozy and his rival Francois Hollande is a choice between a firefighter and a brick mason. In normal times, the public will go for the bricklayer, but in emergency situations, it will veer back towards the firefighter - Sarkozy.
An extremist cell was rounded up in Nice. Henceforward, French citizens departing France for Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places where Muslim terrorist activity takes place, will be committing a crime. This, warned Sarkozy, means police custody and prison. The president's rivals have begun to fire back on this issue, refusing it to leave it to Sarkozy and his UMP party.
Over the weekend the National Front and the French Socialist party declared their alarm over the imminent arrival of two prominent Muslim preachers--Yusuf Qaradawi and Mahmoud Al-Masri, who were scheduled to attend the April 5th Congress of the French Union of Islamic Organizations (UOIF), an organization which has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Manuel Valls, communications director for the Hollande campaign, claimed "it is unacceptable that such an individual…could set foot on the French Republic especially in the dramatic contest context that we have come to recognize." The National Front accused Nicolas Sarkozy of hurriedly backpedaling and denying visas to the Muslim preachers.
Qaradawi provided the religious sanction for the suicide bombing campaign against Israel. In January 2009 he claimed that Hitler had put the Jews in their place and that the Holocaust was "divine punishment". He had also warned former French president Jacques Chirac not to interfere with the veil in French educational institutions.
Sarkozy was quick to go on French television and report that "I've indicated to the Emir of Qatar himself that this gentleman would not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic. Qaradawi has Qatari citizenship and is a star on the Emirate's Al Jazeera television channel.
The International Union of Muslim scholars, a group that Qaradawi heads expressed regret at the decision .“We are surprised, and we admonish France for refusing to grant Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi a visa. He is a moderate scholar who contributed to combating extremism in Islamic thoughts,” said the union’s secretary general, Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi.
Qaradaghi noted that the union had condemned the killings in France and considered France an allied country that had played a major positive role in the Arab spring especially in Libya and the expectation was that France would display more of the same in Syria.