February 25, 2015 / 3:48 PM / 3 years ago

France plans broader dialogue with its large Muslim minority

PARIS (Reuters) - France outlined plans for a broader dialogue with its Muslim minority on Wednesday after the faith’s official council proved unable to deal with the challenges presented by Islamist radicalization.

Attacks by French Islamists on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery in Paris last month, in which 17 people were killed, have been followed by a sharp rise in attacks on French mosques, putting Europe’s largest Muslim minority in the spotlight.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the government would consult twice a year with a wide range of Muslim leaders, including not only the official French Muslim Council (CFCM) but also imams and intellectuals not represented in it, on problems facing the community.

France would also promote university-level civics courses for imams, and require them for Islamic chaplains in prisons, hospitals and the armed forces, he said.

Like other Western countries, France has seen young Muslim citizens go to Syria and Iraq to train or fight with Islamic State, and prisons have emerged as a prime venue for their radicalization.

“We want to form the most representative forum possible,” Cazeneuve told the daily Le Monde. “We must permit all representatives of a tolerant and peaceful Islam to discuss and resolve problems in an orderly manner.”

The move amounts to an acknowledgment that the CFCM, launched by the government in 2003 to help address the problems of France’s 5 million Muslims, has been ineffective.

The government wanted one body that could speak for France’s Muslims and promote a version of Islam compatible with the strongly secular state.

But the CFCM has been racked by divisions among rival mosque networks, especially those linked to Algeria, Morocco and Turkey, which each support the mosques of their respective emigrant communities in France.

As a result, the CFCM has been unable to make progress on pressing issues such as training imams and chaplains or regulating halal slaughter. Its members cannot even agree on when to start the fast in the holy month of Ramadan.

Mohamed Moussaoui, CFCM president from 2008 to 2013, said recently the Council was a failure and Muslim leaders must work much more closely with local mosques and train imams and chaplains to keep young Muslims from becoming radicalized.

Cazeneuve said he aimed to have the dialogue forum begin its work before the start of Ramadan in mid-June.

Additional reporting by Gerard Bon; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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