Michel Gurfinkiel

Michel Gurfinkiel

Michel Gurfinkiel

France/ The Islamic Challenge

French society's interaction with Islam : an exercise in serendipity ?

70 % of the French are afraid of fundamentalism, according to a CSA survey recently published in La Vie, the liberal Catholic weekly.  A further 66 % think that fundamentalism is more prevalent in some religions than in others. And 38 % explains fundamentalism as "the will to power of minority religious groups" (1). Clearly, Islam the name of the game, as  the politically correct editors of La Vie recognize, albeit reluctantly : "The French do believe today in a specific political-religious threat. And Islam, quite probably, is what first comes to their mind" (2).


The fact is that Islam is by now the second largest religion in France, far behind Roman Catholicism, nominally the religion of more than 80 % of the French, but quite ahead of Protestantism and Judaism, the traditional minority denominations of the country. A latecomer, Islam has moved into French society only since the begininng of the 20th century and in particular over the past forty years, in relation with mass immigration from North Africa ; it has become highly visible in major cities as well as in some rural areas. Never was such a large non-Christian group present in France since Roman times, nor such such a large non-Catholic group since Louis XIV's suppression of Protestantism in the late 17th century. A dramatic change indeed, the full effects of which are still to be assessed, but which already seems to threaten the social fabrics in two distinct ways : the growth of Islam is used quite successfully as a legitimizing foil by the Far Right extremists of Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National(3).


For all that, there are no accurate population figures about French Islam, only guesswork. The Ministry of Interior and Ined, the French equivalent of the US Bureau of Census, routinely speak of some 3 millions Muslims. Cheikh Abbas, the Head of the Great Mosque in Paris, pointed to me as early as in 1987 to twice as much : 6 millions (4). Journalists feel more comfortable with medium estimates : 3 to 4 millions according to Philippe Bernard in Le Monde (5). So does also the Catholic Church, a reliable source of information on religious trends in France : estimates published under the aegis of the French bishops conclude to a 4 millions Muslim presence (6).


The major reason why figures about Islam in France tend to be vague and untrustworthy is simply that registration or census along religious lines is prohibited in almost all circumstances under French law, even in the guise of electronic data, even about foreigners. The three departements of the former Alsace-Lorraine, Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin and Moselle, where the German system of State-sponsored churches has been retained after World War I, are not really helpful in this respect : they do provide religious statistics, but only for the pre-1918 "established" faiths, i. e. Christians and Jews ; Muslims and other post-1918 communities are not supposed to be part of the system and not counted. As for polls or surveys, a legal way to investigate about religious or ethnic communities since anonimity is preserved, they widely vary in scope, methodology – and results. It is only fair to add that methodologies that proved quite useful in the case of other French religions do not work very well with Islam.


A striking example in that respect is the 1994 survey conducted by the CSA polling institute on behalf of Le Monde, the Paris daily, and several Catholic publications or organizations like La Vie , L'Actualité religieuse dans le monde , and Forum des communautés chrétiennes  (7). CSA resorted to the "self-definition methodology", in which people are free to qualify their answers and to identify at varying degrees with several seemingly exclusive profiles ; a methodology that certainly encourages many people to express more confidently religious attitudes at variance with what is expected. The survey shows that only 68 % of the French identify either "strongly, moderately or vaguely" with Catholicism as a religion : since the rate of Catholic baptism is much higher (84 % in 1990), one is drawn to the conclusion that a fair proportion of nominal Catholics have this ritual performed on their children for merely social reasons and in fact dissociate with most Catholic beliefs, teachings or practices. On the other hand, many people that are not usually counted as Protestants or Jews express closeness to those religions : only 2 % of the French state Protestantism as their religion, but 9 % identify with it in some way ; and while only 1 % of the French formally claim to be Jewish, a staggering 6 % identify with Judaism. In the case of Protestantism, a plausible explanation is that many people raised as Catholics are attracted by what is seen as either a simplified or a more vibrant version of Christianity, without formally converting to a Protestant church. Regarding Judaism, one is rather to resort to sociological reasons : the high rate of assimiliation, conversion and intermarriage among French Jews over the past two hundred years has seemingly resulted in the emergence of a large "post-Jewish" or "peri-Jewish" community, more or less merged with other religions but retaining nevertheless a strong sense of relation to Judaism and the Jewish people.


Now, the figures about Islam provided by the same CSA/Le Monde survey are surprisingly low. Only 2 % of the present French population – about 1,2 million out of 58 millions – definitely claim Islam as their religion : half what the Ministry of Interior has in mind, one third of what most journalists would guess, almost one sixth of the 1987 Cheikh Abbas' estimates. Only 7 % identify with Islam : slightly more than with Judaism and much less than with Protestantism. Whatever the interpretation is – either uneasiness with a former colonial power or the old tradition of dissimulating one's belief under duress, real or alleged (taqia), or even a wish to evade Islam –  it appears that Muslims in France are reluctant to answer questions about themselves or to let the non-Muslim political or cultural Establishment assess their actual numbers.


Statistics about foreigners, albeit "religion-blind", are obviously useful, since most French Muslims are recent or second-generation immigrants. But then again, many methodological problems arise. For one thing, some countries of origin are homogeneously islamic at some stage, but many others are not. By 1990, some 572 000 Moroccans were registered as immigrants in France ; but many of them were in fact Moroccan Jews who had immigrated throughout the sixties and the seventies and not yet applied for French citizenship. The same was true about Tunisia (206 000 immigrants), but not about Algeria (614 000 immigrants) since Algerian Jews had enjoyed full French citizenship since 1870 and "moved back", so to say, to continental France (the Métropole) after independence in 1962 (8). Conversely,  the Jewish communities of Morocco and Tunisia being almost completely extinguished by now (less than 10 000 people in each country), one is to assume that the more recent figures of Moroccan or Tunisian immigration to France do refer almost exclusively to Muslims.


A second factor plays against statistics about foreigners. Unlike Germany, that allows for some permanent immigration but remains highly selective in bestowing full citizenship to resident foreigners, even natural-born, France sticks to an extremely generous naturalization policy, according to which : a) all legal residents can apply for citizenship after only five years ; b) every child born on French soil can apply for citizenship, irrespectively of his parents nationality and even of his parents legal presence in the country. Thus, figures about foreign residents tell only half of the story : they don't bring visibility to naturalized ex-foreigners (who tend gradually to overcome foreigners in numbers), nor to the quite large natural-born offspring.


What remains clear is that the Muslim population of France is certainly over 3 millions (about 5 % of the global population) and quite probably over 4 millions (6,6 %). It has grown in a spectacular way since World War II, when it amounted to no more than 100 000 souls (9) : over fifty years, a thirty times or even an forty times increase. It is still growing at rapid pace : either by further immigration (illegal but until now largely unsuppressed), natural increase (immigrant Muslim families retain a comparatively high bithrate) or conversion (either as the result of intermarriage or out of a personal religious quest). The best-case scenario (low immigration, diminishing bithrate, few conversions) provides for a 50 % increase within twenty years : 4,5 to 6 millions Muslims in France by year 2016 for 60 millions French, or 7 to 10 % of the global population (10). Worst-case scenarios (rampant immigration, higher birthrate for Muslims than for non-Muslims and a higher share of young people in the Muslim population than among non-Muslims, "conversion boom") point to a 100 % or even a 200 % increase : 6 to 12 millions Muslims by 2016, or 10 to 20 % of the global population. Not to mention a catastrophic scenario, where a rapidly growing, young and assertive Muslim community simply outgoes a declining, aging and unsure non-Muslim community.


The bulk of the present Muslim community is made of North African immigrants and their offspring. Clearly, what we have is the nemesis of French colonial rule over the three Maghreb countries (Algeria from 1830 to1962, Tunisia 1881 to1956, Morocco 1912 to 1956). Some Muslim subjects of France immigrated even before 1914, but the Great War was the turning-point, with 300 000 Maghrebines drafted, two thirds of them as soldiers in the Colonial troops, one third as workers in the armament industry. Many of them were killed or died of disease, some others were forcibly sent home after 1918. But more than 80 000 stayed (11) : a presence to which symbolic recognition was granted in 1920, when the French parliament passed a special law to fund a Great Mosque in Paris, notwithstanding the 1905 law separating the churches from the State and prohibiting public funding for religious organizations. In 1936, the Socialist-led government of Léon Blum uplifted all limitations to travel and residence for North African Muslims. World War II was a reiteration of the Great War, especially after North Africa was won over by the Allied Powers in 1942, with some 100 000 Muslims drafted in the French Army in Italy, and many of them ending in France. Right after the war, many Algerian Muslims came to work in the industry. All in all, a Muslim population of 400 000 was in place in 1962, when Algeria, the oldest and the largest territory of French North Africa, achieved independence (12).


Then, in less than ten years, it more than doubled. First, there was the case of the so-called Muslim-French (Français-Musulmans) of Algeria, or Harkis . In their colonial war against the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), from 1954 to 1962, the French had drafted a Muslim auxiliary force of 250 000. Most of those unfortunate loyalists were simply left behind in 1962, a deliberate and dreadful decision which meant for them torture and death at the hand of the winners. Some 20 000 were however transfered to France, along with their families : almost overnight, French Islam was thus accrued by a new community of 75 000 souls (13). Housed in distant rural villages, secluded both from the mainstream Muslims immigrants and the French, but legally deemed to be full-range French citizens, the Harkis were to double their numbers by the end of the decade. Ironically enough, some former FLN fighters, most of them Berberic-speaking Kabyls rejected by the new Arabic-speaking Establishment, or even disenchanted members of the new elite, were also  allowed to settle in France as "repatriated citizens". Clearcut provisions of citizenship and travel were not defined until 1968. In 1967 alone, no less than 127 000 Algerian Muslims came to France to stay permanently (14).


An additional demographic change occurred from 1962 until 1974, as a booming French industry hired several hundreds of thousands of migrant workers (travailleurs immigrés) with government approval and under government supervision, chiefly from Algeria and Morocco, but also from Tunisia : by and large, it is estimated that half a million more Muslims were thus induced to come. Quite naturally, they stayed almost to a man (15). The economic immigration policy was seen by French corporations as a tool to keep industrial wages low. As for the French government, it used it as a bargain in its relations with the former dependencies of North Africa, particularly oil-rich Algeria : more emigrants to France meant for those countries less pressure on the already depressed employment market as well as a sustained flow of hard currency remittances.


By 1973, shortly before the first oil shock, the total Muslim North African population of France was thus in all probability over 1 million. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who succeeded Georges Pompidou as president of the Republic in May, 1974, in the immediate aftermath of the Yom Kippour War and the oil shock, was quite aware and quite concerned about those numbers. He tried earnestly to reverse the trend, first by formally putting an end to the economic immigration policy of the sixties, then by initiating a public-funded policy of gradual repatriation or "reemigration" of the North African migrant workers. He failed miserably in both cases, however, since the utter ideological uncorrectness of any such policy, both in terms of domestic politics and of French-Arab relations, required a host a qualifications rendering the entire scheme unworkable. For instance, the first comprehensive measures issued by the Giscard d'Estaing administration on July 3rd, 1974, were so articulated as not to harm human rights or family rights : though unwelcome, migrants were actually offered new incentives in terms of housing, welfare and education programs, and allowed to bring in their relatives, even under polygamy (16). This exercise in serendipity  brought about a further dramatic increase of Muslim demographics within less than one decade. By the early eighties, as the Socialist François Mitterrand succeeded the Conservative Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, some 2 millions North African Muslims were estimated to live in France ; and they were for the best part of them either French citizens (as bona fide colonial citizens or as natural-born citizens) or ascendants of French citizens. Retrospectively, it may be said that French Islam then reached its critical mass and was established as a permanent component of French national life.


Under Mitterrand's two seven-years mandates (1981-1995), Islam continued to grow. At times, there were some attempts to curb more effectively illegal immigration, but then it was feared, both by the Socialists and the Conservatives, that too much posturing on the issue would only fuel the rise of the Far Right. The major change in respect of North Africa was that immigration from Morocco and Tunisia stabilized or dropped,  if only because Moroccans and Tunisians gradually diverted to further European countries, like Spain, Italy or Belgium, while immigration from Algeria was stepped up by the economic and political difficulties in this country and continued to be directed primarily towards France (17). Moreover, immigration from other Muslim countries, either legal or illegal, became more visible : the former French colonies of West Africa, especially Senegal and Mali ; the Comoros ; Turkey ; even Iran or Pakistan. But natural increase, in a community were "reunited" families – monogamic or polygamic – began to outnumber single males, was from now on an even more significant factor of growth.


In 1992, the fertility rate in France was of 1,8 births per woman, a figure slightly above Germany (1,3), Italy (1,3), Spain (1,2) but well beneath the US (2,1) (18).In fact, France's marginal demographic advantage over other European Union countries was due largely to a comparatively high birthrate among Muslims. While detailed figures about French Muslim women cannot be computed, for the legal reasons I mentioned earlier, enough significant data can be infered from statistics about foreign women in France or from other sources to substantiate this analysis. Thus, the fertility rate of Algerian women in France was of 4,4 births per woman in 1981 and 3,5 births in 1990. For Morrocan women in France, it was respectively of 5,8 in 1981 and 3,5 in 1990. For Tunisian women, 5,1 and 4,2 (19). While dropping a bit, immigrant Muslim birthrate was still three to four times higher than average French birthrate by the early nineties. And there was no definite reason to believe that it would necessarily align with the French average over the years. It is noteworthy, for instance, that while Tunisian women in France had a slightly lower birthrate than Tunisian women in Tunisia by 1981 (5,1 against 5,2), the reverse was true nine years later (4,2 against 3,4), either because welfare was higher in France or because French democracy allows for more real choice in family planning, including "pro-family" choice, than the Tunisian semi-authoritarian regime (20).


If one is to rely on cautious, conservative estimates, the breakdown of Muslim population in France would be in 1995 more or less as follows (21) :


– 1,5 million French citizens, including some 500 000 Harkis ;


– 1 million registered foreign residents from North Africa ;


– 170 000 registered foreign residents from West Africa ;


– 160 000 registered foreign residents from Turkey ;


– 50 000 registered foreign residents from other Muslim countries ;


– some 750 000 clandestine foreign residents from Muslim countries.


Total : 3,63 millions.


According to the Ministry of Interior figures, three thirds of Muslims live in the major urban areas : 38 %  in Ile-de-France (the Paris area), 13 % in the Provence-Côte d'Azur (the Southern province encomprising Marseilles and Nice, as well as the French Riviera), 10 % in Rhône-Alpes (the province around Lyons and Grenoble), 5 % in Nord-Pas-de-Calais (around Lille).  Now, in order to get a full measure of Islam's impact on French society, those figures must be translated in absolute numbers and related to the local population. What we have is 1,37 million Muslims in Ile-de-France, against a total local population of 11 millions (slightly more than 10 %) ; 471 000 Muslims in Provence-Côte d'Azur, against 4,3 millions (again, slightly more than 10 %) ; 363 000  in Rhône-Alpes, against 5,3 millions (6,8 %) ; 181 000 in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, against 3,9 millions (4,64 %). In addition, it should be stressed that the proportion of Muslims is even higher among children, teenagers and young adults, because of the strong birthrate. With an average of three or four children in a Muslim family against one child among non-Muslims, the 10 % of Muslims relatively to the global population translate easily into one third of the global young population. Very impressive figures indeed, especially if and when Muslims concentrate in ghettoes or enclaves. In fact, many cities or neighbourhoods of France have turned into all-Muslim territories.


Many French Muslims may be described as middle-class or even upper-class. There is a growing Muslim presence in the liberal and learned professions, particularly medicine (Dalil Boubakeur, the Head of the Great Mosque in Paris, is a respected physician). Some Muslims have made their way well into France's ruling elite, the State's Grands Corps  and the Council of State. Others are senior executives in major corporations. This upper crust of French Islam mixes freely with the non-Muslim population and does not stick to special neighbourhoods. As a matter of fact, no case of discrimination in housing  against upper-class or middle class Muslims has been ever reported. Many working-class Muslims tend also to follow the same pattern and to mingle with the non-Muslim world : it is true in particular of the first wave immigrants, who came to work in the industry throughout the fifties and the fifties. Since they came as singles, they quite frequently intermarried with non-Muslim women, either French-born or immigrant, and got absorbed quite easily into the mainstream society. Isabelle Adjani, the famed actress, is the daughter of an immigrant Algerian Muslim father and an immigrant German Catholic mother. Ali Magoudi, a well-known psychoanalyst, was born to an immigrant Algerian Muslim father and an immigrant Polish Catholic mother.


But a very high proportion of French Muslims are not to be listed with the better classes or with the classic working class but rather with the underclass, the segment of the population which doesn't rely as much on education and work for its survival as on welfare and parasitous activities, including crime. One is familiar with the process that has plagued the largest part of the Black community and some parts of the Hispanic community in the United States. The same occurred to most of the Muslims who came to France as whole families rather than as individuals : the Harkis and then the post-1974 immigrants. The main difference is that the American underclass tends to concentrate in the inner cities, while its French counterpart is rather to be found in the new and dull public housing neighbourhoods that have mushroomed at the periphery. Accordingly, the bearing of words like "suburbs" and "suburbanite" is just the opposite in France of what it is in North America : French suburbs, unless otherwise qualified, are supposed to be ghettoes ; and French suburbanites are supposed to be Arabs.


According to Lucienne Bui-Trong, the officer in charge of the Towns and Suburbs Departement at the General Intelligence Division (Renseignements généraux) of the French police, no less than one thousand Muslim neighbourhoods are under  monitoring throughout France. Unemployment is rampant in those areas : 470 000 registered unemployed adults in 1993, i. e. roughly 35 % of the total adult manpower (22). So is violence and crime. Seven hundred Muslim neighbourhoods are listed as "violent". Four hundred are listed as "very violent", which implies organized crime, frequent recourse to firearms and a systematic strategy to keep the police off the place. 226 of such very dangerous neighbourhoods are to be found in Ile-de-France, 89 in Provence-Côte d'Azur, 62 in Rhône-Alpes and 61 in Rhône-Pas-de-Calais (23). Street violence there range from streetfighting, car-stealing and looting (58 % of all offenses) to assault on teachers and civil servants (10 %) or outright assault and rebellion against the police (19 %) (24). There are also periodic outbursts of large-scale unrest or rioting, just like in Los Angeles or other large cities in the United States. The first real big riots occured at Vaulx-en-Velin, a Lyons suburb, in 1990. Further riots took place in the Paris suburbs over the past five years, or even at resort sites where suburbanite youngsters were enjoying government-sponsored vacations.


For French suburbs or ghettoes are not the object of benign neglect on the part of the State and the local government, as one would imagine. No less than 250 millions francs (50 millions dollars) have been spent since 1990 for the rehabilitation of Vaulx-en-Velin : the 45 000 inhabitants community has been lavished with public-funded parks, sport facilities, underground parking lots, public libraries, museums (including France's most modern planetarium and a Minorities Permanent Exhibition Center), kindergartens. At national level, 14,9 billions francs (2,98 billions dollars) have been earmarked in French fiscal year 1995 for "urban policies" (an euphemism for ghetto rehabilitation) (25). With no result at all : both crime and unrest are sharply on the rise at Vaulx and everywhere else.  The basic assumption underlying welfare policy in ghettoes, that unrest in the result of poverty and a shabby urban environment, has thus proved unwarranted. In fact, as many sociologists (including Muslim sociologists) have acknowledged, there is an almost symbiotic relationship in the ghettoes between the underclass way of life on the one hand and ethnic/religious separatism on the other hand. Conservative Muslims see the ghettoes as a way to derive maximum benefit from immigration to France without assimilating into non-Muslim French society. Some amount of ghetto violence, in this context, ensures separation from the outside world or can be used in bargaining with the non-Muslim authorities  to get more de facto autonomy. It can also be used as a social control tool against liberal-minded Muslim individuals.


Which brings us to the place of religion as such in French Islam. Just how Islamic are French Muslims, how religious and how orthodox ? One thousand mosques are said to function nowadays in France. Almost all of them have been built or organized over the past thirty years. Eight of them, including the Paris Great Mosque, are "cathedrals", large monumental buildings with a capacity of more than 1000 worshippers. A further one hundred mosques are quite big structures, with a capacity of several hundred worshippers. Then, there are some nine hundred small mosques, accomodating from 30 or 5O to 100 worshippers : not specific buildings, but rather simple rooms at factories or at the basement of large public housing units (26).


Mosque attendance is usually not very high : according to Ined, an average 23 % of all Muslims in France join public prayer at least five times a year. Still, it is slightly higher than Catholic church attendance, which is only of 20 % for seasonal high service (Christmas, Easter and All Saints Day). What is worth of attention, too, is the breakdown of Muslim religious practice according to gender, age or geographic/ethnic origin. Muslim women seem to be more religious than Muslim men, with a 26 % average : but this is due to the fact that attendance is very low among French-born young males of Algerian origin, the main male group (less than 6 %). The Turks – many of them turning out to be Kurds from South-Eastern Anatolia – are quite religious (36 %), followed by the Morrocans (27 %) (27). But then, is really regular mosque attendance the hallmark of Islamic religious practice ? It may be more significant that some exceptional holidays, like the Aid-el-Kebir (Maghrebine colloquial Arabic for Id al-Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice), draw thousands of worshippers not just into the mosques but outside as well, for outdoors prayers.


In any case, demand for mosques grow. In principle, public funding is not feasible, but the French have devised various ways to circumvent their own laws and grant extensive public help in cash or credit to any Islamic congregation with a sound building project. Most such projects are complete with ritual baths, schools, clinics and bookshops. The same is true about ritually acceptable food (hallal) : demand is growing and the government has been obliging, by granting the Muslims the same slaughtering or processing privileges that have been customarily bestowed on the Jews. Ramadan observance is also on the grow and taken in account by the government in the case of Muslim civil servants.


Some other facts point to a gradual shift, within the French Muslim community, toward more identification with religion as such and a more rigorous approach to religious practice. Many women or teen-age girls tend to wear the Islamic veil, and even tried to do it at public schools, until legally barred. Immigrant groups with a secular agenda, like Arezki Dahmani's France Plus, have associated with Islamists in order to retain their constituency. All-Islamic mosques or groups run by mystical or radical brotherhoods (tariqat) based in such distant places like Egypt, Turkey or Pakistan tend to supersede the "immigrant mosques", run by Maghrebine imams closely connected to the Moroccan, Algerian or Tunisian governments.


There is no central religious organization of Islam in France, each local congregation being registered as a separate entity under the 1901 law on non-profit organizations. The Islamic Institute of Paris, wich runs the Great Mosque, enjoys no authority or prestige whatsoever over other mosques or Islamic religious organizations. Several attempts were made over the recent years to bring all or most Muslims together into a National Islamic Federation more or less modelled after the Jewish Consistoire . They all failed or proved unconclusive. One reason for that has been that such projects clearly have more to do about power and money than about anything else. The National Federation of French Muslims (FNMF), founded in 1985, is largely a Moroccan lobby, while the slightly more recent Union of Islamic Organizations in France (UOIF) is seen as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood (28). As for the Council for the Future of Islam in France (Corif), the National Coordination of French Muslims (CNMF), the Representative Council of French Muslims (CRMF) and the High Muslim Council of France (HCM), all four of them have been created under the aegis of the Minister of Interior, the first one under Pierre Joxe, a Socialist, in 1990, the second and the third under Charles Pasqua, a Conservative, between 1993 and 1995, and the fourth one under Jean-Louis Debré, a Conservative too. While the French government hopes to exert more control over French Islam through an established Islamic "church", Muslim groups tend to think of it as a way to get Islam recognized as an autonomous body within the French body politic. While radical or fundamentalist leaders state this aim quite unabashedly, moderate leaders do it in a more astute and recondite way ; but all claim full adherence to orthodox Islamic laws and teachings regarding relations with non-Muslim powers.


It is quite worth quoting Dalil Boubakeur, the French-born and thoroughly gallicized Head of the Great Mosque and the driving force behind the CRMF. In January, 1995, he presented a Platform for Islamic Worship in France (Charte du culte musulman en France) to the then Minister of Interior, Charles Pasqua. This document has been subsequently published as an French-Islamic manifest of sorts (29), with an elaborate commentary, also by Boubakeur. Article 32 of the Platform reads as follows : "Muslims in France, in full communion with the other believers, intend to work toward a concept of secularity that would establish a situation of concord between the religions and the State". Now, this is not secularity as the French understand it since 1905 – complete separation of Church and State – but rather a situation reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire under the Tanzimat regime, where all religions enjoyed public recognition and varying degrees of autonomy within the State. The word "concord" is itself a reference to the old Catholic pratice of concordats, full-fledged bilateral treaties between the Vatican and the sovereign Powers delineating the respective powers and privileges of the Catholic Church and the State : the subtext being apparently that the French Republic should pass a treaty with Islam regarding the governance of the French Muslim Community. In fact, Boubakeur makes clear in his Commentary to the Platform  that "according to Sharia, a non-Muslim country is not to be seen anymore as Dar-El-Harb (land of Jihad or land of war) but rather as Dar-Al-Ahd (land of contract or covenant", and that "the Platform is an expression of such a covenant") (30). In full awareness of the legal or constitutional difficulties implied in such a "covenantal" statute for Islam, the Platform  refers to a de facto revision of the 1905 law of Separation : "Islam has not emerged as one of the major worships of France before the second half of the second century, long after the 1905 law… Muslims look forward to a friendly interpretation of the law… enabling them to join harmoniously into the French society and the French State…" (31).


Significantly, the chief Catholic authority of France, Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris, voiced concern, not long ago, about the prospect of a State-sponsored Islam : "It is not the job of the French government to set up a French-flavored Islam. One should not mistake the 20th century for the Age of Louis XIV or Napoleon, when worship could be regulated by decree. There is no other alternative but to enforce the law of the Republic in a wise and gentle way, and to wait for some thirty years or two generations, until Muslims with French citizenship will regard themselves and be regarded as French people of the Islamic faith."  (32). It is extremely unfrequent nowadays for French Catholic leaders to talk so boldly about issues involving other religions. Evidently, Archbishop Lustiger – a converted Jew – takes seriously the potential dangers involved in the combination of growing Muslim demographics and a growing Islamic political leverage.








(1) 7 Français sur 10 ont peur, a CSA-La Vie survey, La Vie, December 14th, 1995.

(2) Jean-Claude Petit, Faire face aux intégrismes, ibid.

(3) Eric Branca, Khaled ou la banlieue, Valeurs Actuelles, October 7th, 1995.

(4) Interview with the author, published in Valeurs Actuelles, september 1987.

(5) Philippe Bernard, M. Pasqua reconnaît un Conseil représentatif des musulmans, Le Monde, 12th January, 1995.

(6) L'Eglise catholique de France, sa mission, ses organisations, LES.

(7) Jacques Sutter, Guy Michelat, Julien Potel, Le Monde, 12th May, 1995.

(8) Emmanuel Todd, Le destin des immigrés, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1994. See page 281.

(9) René Gallissot, Le mixte franco-algérien, in L'Immigration maghrébine en France, Les Temps Modernes, volume 40, number 2-3-4, March to May 1984.

(10) 60 millions is the global population of France by year 2020, as projected by Nathan Keyfitz and Wilhelm Flieger in World Population Growth and Aging, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1990.

(11) René Gallissot, op. cit.

(12) Emmanuel Todd, op. cit.

(13) Saliha Abdellatif, Les Français Musulmans ou le poids de l'histoire à travers la communauté picarde, in L'Immigration maghrébine en France, Les Temps Modernes, volume 40, number 2-3-4, March to May 1984.

(14) Patrick Weil, La France et ses étrangers, Calmann-Lévy, Paris, 1991.

(15) René Gallissot, op. cit.

(16) Pierre Weil, op. cit. 

(17) A fact stressed by demographer Georges Tapinos in a interview with the author, Valeurs Actuelles, May, 1994.

(18) The World Bank Atlas, 1995.

(19) Y. Courbage, Demographic Transition in the Maghreb peoples of North Africa and among the emigrant community, in P. Ludlow, Europe and the Mediterranean, Brassey's, London and New York, 1993.

(20) Ibid.

(21) French Ministry of Interior and Ined for most figures. See also Hubert de Beaufort and Jacques de Zélicourt, Pourquoi la crise et comment en sortir, Mame, Paris, 1993, an innovative book that provides some further figures about illegal immigration.

(22) Hubert de Beaufort and Jacques de Zélicourt, op. cit.

(23) Jean-Marc Leclerc, Ces banlieues du non-droit, Valeurs actuelles, October 14th, 1995.

(24) Ibid.

(25) Eric Branca, Ramener l'Etat dans les cités, an interview with Eric Raoult,  Minister of Social Integration, Valeurs actuelles, October 14th, 1995.

(26) Ined and Ministry of Interior, quoted in Libération, September 20th, 1995.

(27) Ined, ibid.

(28) François Devinat, Une mosaïque impossible à fédérer, Libération, September 20th, 1995.

(29) Charte du Culte musulman en France, Présentation et commentaires du Dr Dalil Boubakeur, La Mosquée de Paris/Editions du Rocher, Monaco, 1995.

(30) Ibid., page 34.

(31) Ibid, page 56.

(32) François Devinat, "Ce n'est pas à l'Etat de créer un islam français", an interview with Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger, Libération, November 14th, 1995.


© Michel Gurfinkiel, 1996



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