Letter from the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE) to French President, Nicolas Sarkozy

His Excellency, President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy

Dear President Sarkozy,

We, in the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE) continue to monitor, along with Muslims on this continent, and segments of European civil society, and the public, the disturbing trend in positions taken by some political actors and the media in France in recent weeks, with regard to dealing with Muslims and their organisations in France.

The positions and statements expressed by state and political bodies paint a worrying picture in terms of some declared intentions towards Muslims. In addition, the content of some media channels comes close to casting French Muslims, their prominent organisations, and mosque imams unjustly in the zone of suspicion.

The Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE) was quite surprised at some of these measures and views; for example, the announcement by French authorities to refuse a number of prominent Muslim scholars and personalities permission to enter France and attend the 29th Annual Meeting of France’s Muslims, in a step coinciding with a reprehensible smear campaign in the media against these widely respected scholars.

Indeed, we would wish to remind that these steps are incompatible with the requirements of common decency, and that the recurring ill treatment of Muslims in France cannot be in harmony with the values of the French Republic, and also send the wrong signals. In this context, the impression given is that further moral burdens are unfairly being put onto the shoulders of France’s Muslims in the wake of the terrible crimes witnessed recently in Toulouse, whose victims were French citizens from different religious communities, including Muslims. Perhaps, you may have noted the voices in political and media circles that engage in practically dividing French society, instilling fear of Muslims and Islamic organisations in the public, cheaply exploiting the blood of innocent victims, and ignoring the standards of fairness and obligations of human rights.

It is quite disheartening to see general election seasons converted into a cheap contest between candidates vying to out-do each other, where contrary to the spirit of democracy, they employ misrepresentation and agitation, pit citizens against each other, and create division in society, just to win votes or publicity. Political campaigning, especially during election times, must distance itself from stoking resentment, provoking panic, offending communities, and disparaging the cultural specificities of partners in society and citizens of the Republic.

No doubt that acts of violence, aggression, and terror, are condemned in all forms, and cannot be justified. Indeed, these must be prevented and confronted; this is what we have emphasised in repeated statements of position. However, guilt cannot be generalised, nor can the followers of a specific religion, or members of a community or culture be blamed wholesale for acts of violence or terrorism, tarred with same brush of suspicion, or restricted in their public or personal freedoms. Indeed, the ideal response to acts of violence, hate speech, and voices of extremism, lies in isolating these within their actual context, and dealing with them using the tools of justice and systems of the state of law. At the same time, strengthening solidarity and openness, protecting human values and constitutional principles, supporting accord, reinforcing mutual respect, and promoting solidarity and cohesion in society. The confluence of efforts and collaboration in political and societal spheres is, ideally, sufficient to address problems, challenges, and threats.

Feverish misrepresentation and incitement is the wrong response to the shock of Toulouse, as this threatens to practically undermine the values of religious and personal freedom, equality and equal opportunities, openness and tolerance, and mutual respect and solidarity. Moreover, such an approach is irresponsible, as it distracts from the common challenges that require societies with diverse constituents to combat and address their causes, roots, and consequences. It is our expectation that all responsible bodies in France will choose wisdom, broad-mindedness, and concern for national unity, even in the context of political and electoral competition. Everyone is required to work hard at winning hearts, building bridges, reinforcing mutual trust, and closing the door on those voices inciting discord and hostility, creating splits within our European societies, and harming intercultural relations.

With the utmost respect

Brussels, 5 April 2012

Chakib Benmakhlouf

President, the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE)

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