French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stressed on Monday there was no link between extremism and Islam, as he opened a conference aimed at improving ties with France’s large Muslim community.
“We must say all of this is not Islam,” said Valls. “The hate speech, anti-Semitism that hides behind anti-Zionism and hate for Israel… the self-proclaimed imams in our neighbourhoods and our prisons who are promoting violence and terrorism.”
Five months after the attacks in Paris that killed 17 people and shocked the world, the government will hold a series of meetings with top officials from the roughly five million-strong Muslim community, the largest in Europe.
The forum — expected to be attended by between 120-150 Muslim community leaders as well as top government officials and ministers — will debate security at religious sites, the image of Islam in the media and the building of new mosques.
Radicalisation, however, will not be among the topics discussed during the half-day long gathering at France’s interior ministry, which said putting it on the table would be “a bad message to the French and to the Muslim community.”
The gathering is a tricky exercise for the government because it is seeking an improved dialogue with the Muslim community, but it must avoid appearances that it is singling it out.
When former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing opposition party held an internal meeting earlier this month on the “question of Islam” in France, it drew criticism from Muslim groups and some members of the party for “stigmatising” the religion.