'France's secular laws can accommodate Islam'

Amid scandal following France's 'Burkini ban', President insists that his country can 'make space' for Islam in secularist society.


French President Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande
Flash 90

French President Francois Hollande said Thursday that Islam could coexist with secularism, warning in a key speech seen as preparing the ground for a re-election bid that the anti-terror fight should
not undermine French values .

The deeply unpopular Hollande has yet to announce whether he will run for a second term next year but is widely expected to be a candidate. Hollande's unpopularity is such that there is significant talk in France about the anticipated candidacy of former President Nikola Sarkozy, deeply unpopular himself by the end of his time in office.

In a speech on terrorism and democracy in Paris, he defended the country's Muslim minority following a vitriolic debate on the banning of the Islamic burkini swimsuit.

"Nothing in the idea of secularism opposes the practice of Islam in France, provided it respects the law," Hollande said.

Responding to a common accusation leveled by Muslims and other religious minorities against secular governments around the world, Holland insisted that secularism was not a "state religion" to be used against other religions, and denounced the "stigmatisation of Muslims."

Mayors in around 30 French towns this summer cited the country's century-old secular laws in banning head-to-toe swimwear on their beaches, unleashing a furor.

Several of the towns later revoked the ban after France's highest administrative court ruled they were a "serious" violation of basic freedoms.

Hollande rejected calls by conservatives, including his arch-rival Sarkozy, for a ban on the burkini, saying it would be "unconstitutional".

As to whether Islam can co-exist with a secular French state like Christianity and Judaism do, he insisted: "My answer is yes, certainly."

"The question the Republic must answer is: Is it really ready to embrace a religion that it did not expect to be this big over a century ago. There too, my answer is yes, certainly."

"Democracy is our weapon"

In a wide-ranging speech, Hollande cast himself as the defender of democracy in the face of a string of terror attacks that have left over 230 people dead since January 2015.

The government has responded by deploying thousands of troops to patrol the streets, enacting a raft of anti-terror laws and repeatedly extending a state of emergency - measures deemed insufficient by the conservative opposition.

Hollande warned that France could not sacrifice its core values - the motto of the French revolution - of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

"Did the Patriot Act and Guantanamo protect Americans from the (terrorist) threat? No," he said, alluding to calls by Sarkozy for terror suspects to be interned in camps.

"Democracy is our weapon" Hollande insisted.

Polls predict the Socialist leader would suffer a humiliating defeat if he threw his hat in the ring again after five years marked by stubbornly high unemployment and only timid attempts at reform.

Three of his former ministers have already announced their own presidential bids.

They could soon be joined by ambitious former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who resigned from government last week and has hinted he too could run for the Elysee Palace.

Hollande cast himself as the only man who could hold the fractured country together.

"When there is danger, we must come together," he said.

Arutz Sheva Staff contributed to this report