France: Macron Calls for Creation of French Council of Imams

French President Emmanuel Macron.

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Rabat – France’s President Emmanuel Macron gathered on Wednesday the leaders of the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM) to request the creation of a council of imams.

The CFCM members outlined to Macron the foundation of the new council, explaining that its mission is to designate and certify Muslim preachers, or imams, in France.

Following the meeting, Macron asked the CFCM representatives to provide him within two weeks with a “charter of republican values” of the new council, according to French media

The charter of the French council of imams, according to Macron, must affirm its recognition of the values and principles of France.

President Marcon emphasized that the charter must affirm that Islam in France is a religion and not a political movement. He also called for an end to the interference or affiliation of foreign states in French Islam.

Macron’s initiative for a French council of imams comes in a tense context, marked by Islamophobic and racist attacks against Arabs and Muslims as well as a number of extremist crimes in several cities.

These followed his speech in early October denouncing radical Islam and “Islamist separatism” after a knife attack near the former Charlie Hebdo office.  

Read also: How Islamophobic Politics Undermine Western Democracy

Tensions increased after the October 16 beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty in Paris. An 18-year-old Chechen refugee from Russia brutally murdered Paty for showing Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

The decapitation of the French teacher generated a wave of racist and Islamophobic attacks and threats towards the Arab and Muslim community in France, including knife attacks, beatings, and threats to torch mosques, as well as the official dissolution of some Muslim organizations.

In addition, the French president fueled the fire by delivering controversial remarks in defense of the Charlie Hebdo caricatures deemed offensive to Muslims, stating that France will not give up its cartoons, presenting them as a crucial symbol of “French values.”

Macron’s rhetoric spawned a cycle of both Islamophobic and extremist attacks, notably the killing of three people in Nice on October 29, which included the abominable beheading of an elderly woman. Police arrested a Tunisian suspect as well as five others for their alleged implication in the crime.

The series of violent events, in addition to a large campaign to boycott French products across the Arab world, led President Macron to back down on his comments about the caricatures.

Macron said that his government does not endorse caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad. He insisted that lies, misleading reports, and misinterpretations had led many Muslims to believe that he was in favor of the cartoons. Rather, he stressed that his defense is of the freedom of speech.

The creation of a French council of imams might be another move by Macron to quell tensions in France.