Paris steps up struggle against radicals

Thu, Dec 13, 2012, 00:00

France will deport foreign-born imams and disband radical faith-based groups, including hardline traditionalist Catholics, if a new surveillance policy signals they suffer a “religious pathology” and could become violent.

A French Islamist shooting spree last March in which three soldiers and four Jews were killed showed how quickly religiously radicalised people could turn to force, interior minister Manuel Valls told a conference on the official policy of secularism.

His warning came two days after President François Hollande announced the creation of an agency to track how the separation of church and state is upheld in this traditionally Catholic country with Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish minorities.

Mr Valls and two other cabinet ministers told the conference on Tuesday the Socialist-led government would stress the secularist policy, called laïcité, which they said was weakened under previous president Nicolas Sarkozy.

“The aim is not to combat opinions by force, but to detect and understand when an opinion turns into a potentially violent and criminal excess,” he said.

“The objective is to identify when it’s suitable to intervene to treat what has become a religious pathology.”

France’s official secularism sidelines faith in the public sphere, but a trend towards a more visible religious identity among some Muslims, Jews and Catholics has made defending it a cause for the traditionally secularist left-wing parties. Mr Valls stressed the focus would be not only on radical Salafi Muslims recruiting among disaffected youths, but also on groups such as Civitas, a far-right lay Catholic movement that protests aggressively against what it calls insults to Christianity.

Police were already observing Civitas closely because its protest campaigns skirt “the limits of legality”, he said.

The French Catholic Church has kept its distance from Civitas, which is close to the far-right National Front and the rebel traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X, and encouraged its members to join only church-backed protests against the planned legalisation of same-sex marriage.