- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

PARIS Worried by the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in France, the country's interior minister has threatened to expel any foreign Muslim religious leader who disseminates extremist propaganda.
Nicolas Sarkozy issued the warning after the unexpectedly strong showing of a Muslim fundamentalist party in weekend elections for a new council to represent France's various Islamic factions.
The Union of Islamic Organizations of France inspired by Egypt's banned fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood won 19 of the council's 58 seats. The moderate, Algerian-backed Mosque of Paris, which was considered a favorite, won just 15 seats.
"We want to say very simply, imams who propagate views that run counter to French values will be expelled," Mr. Sarkozy told Europe-1 radio yesterday.
A majority of Muslim leaders in France are of foreign nationality, according to the Interior Ministry.
Mr. Sarkozy, who was instrumental in creating the council, said he is determined to curb the influence of extremism on one of Europe's largest Muslim communities.
He said he would not allow the council to be used as a vehicle for spreading extremist views, notably Sharia, or Islamic law.
"Islamic law will be applied nowhere because it is not the law of the [French] Republic," he said.
The council, a major step in France's effort to address the concerns of its 5 million Muslims, will serve as a link to government.
Unlike Roman Catholicism or Judaism, Islam has no hierarchical structure in France, and therefore no leadership that can directly communicate concerns or grievances to the government.
The lack of structure and mosques has forced thousands of Muslims around France to practice their faith in makeshift underground prayer rooms.
"If fundamentalism or extremism has spread so much, it is because we condoned an Islam of cellars and garages," Mr. Sarkozy said.
Part of the council's purpose is to oversee the building of more mosques and encourage foreign imams to learn French.
But Mr. Sarkozy also made clear the government will keep a close watch on the new council's activities and expects it to abide by French law.
"It is precisely because we recognize the right of Islam to sit at the table of the republic that we will not accept any misconduct," he said.
Under a pre-election agreement hammered out by Mr. Sarkozy with the Muslims, the head of the Mosque of Paris, moderate Dalil Boubakeur, will preside over the council initially.

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