France – Islam : What do the poll numbers tell us?

unknown-1A third of the Muslims in France would rather see a hard line Sharia law regime in place of the secular Republic they live in, including half of those aged 15 to 25.

The French weekly, le Journal du Dimanche,  published on Sunday a first of its kind study on Muslims in France which shows that they represent a little over five percent of the population (5.6%) but ten percent of those aged under 25. This means there are some four million Muslims out of a population of 66 million people in the country. What has people anxious is the high number of “extremists” among the youth.

The study, carried out by the progressive leaning Institut Montaigne is called “A French Islam is Possible.” It showed that nearly half (46%) of those questioned respect the secular nature of the French Republic. More worrying, a full half of the Muslims questioned support Sharia in some form and 28% (roughly 1.2 million) are considered “ultras”  who want not only Sharia law but also to see women wear the niqab and legalized polygamy. This latter group “have adopted a system of values totally opposed to the values of the Republic,” the report says.  The more radical elements are among the younger age group.

unknownThe report  shows that secular Muslims practice their religion much more than the national average, (only 30% never go to the Mosque),  70% will only buy halal food and 80% believe it should be served in school cantines. Sixty-five percent of those polled say they favor women wearing a veil and 24% want the full veil for women.  Women showed greater support for Islamic dress than men: only 18% of the women questioned said they are completely opposed to the veil. In France it is illegal to wear ostentatious religious markers, including the veil, in schools and administrations while full face veils are banned in all public places.

What makes the poll so unique is that ethnic census, and even ethnic or religious polls, in France are illegal. This poll needed a special government authorization and was carried out under the direction of a scientific researcher, Antoine Jardin, of the French National Research Center (CNRS), on 1029 people of “Muslim confession or culture.” Without the authorization they risked five years in prison and 300,000 euros fine.

unknown-2Those in favor of a more tolerant view of Islam in France use the study to show that half the population have adapted to the French way of life and respect the laws of the land. They also argue that there are fewer Muslims in France than the “scare-mongers” say there are; that there is no ‘population replacement.’  The more intolerant who want strict laws governing the veil, against radical preachers and an end to foreign financing of Islam in France, argue that half of them believe in Sharia and nearly a third are “ultras” and that the younger they are, the more radicals there are.  They also underline that the younger the population, the higher the percentage of Muslims which they see as a problem for the future.

France has been rocked by a series of Islamist terrorist attacks which left nearly 240 people dead and hundreds injured over the past year-and-a-half, carried out mostly by French born Muslims. The question of how to deal with radical Islam in France will be a major topic in next year’s Presidential and Legislative elections.  Each side will use the figures in this study to justify their positions.

unknownThe Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, says there are 10,500 “radicalized Muslims” on their ’S’ files which means they are a security risk. Nicolas Sarkozy, a former president and hopeful for next year, says he would like to put those on the list in camps after case by case studies. He is far from alone. Sarkozy also said those who quit school and are unemployed between the ages of 19 and 25 will have to do obligatory military service “to learn discipline, how to get up in the morning, respect and work ethics.”  This is seen as a direct reference to young Muslims in the projects, known as Banlieues, where youth unemployment is 45% while on a national level it is 23%. The French military command say they are opposed to this idea. “We are the nation’s guards. Not the nation’s garderie!” said General Vincent Desportes, using the French word which refers to day-care-center.

Another presidential hopeful, former Prime Minister François Fillon, says the study shows “there is a form of dynamic which favors radicalization.” He has argued in favor of “statistics to have the means to deal with radical Islam.” While for the Green Party , Cécile Duflot, sees in the report that ” the vast majority of Muslims in the country live normally.” The hard right wing mayor of Bézier, Robert Ménard, says the figure of the number of radicalized Muslims shows there is no living together.

Anouar Kbibech , the president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, claims the figures “are totally disconnected from reality.” But Mr. Kbibech has a problem: only nine percent of those polled say they recognize his organization as representative.

Even on the left there is talk of getting tough on expressions of Islamic “intolerance and repression of women” as the burkini debate demonstrated this summer.  Mayors, including socialists, tried to ban the full head and body bathing suit for women which appeared for the first time this year on their beaches. They called it a provocation after the July 14 terror attack on Nice which left 86 people dead. The ban was struck down by the French Constitutional Court except for a town in Corsica, Sisco, which is run by a socialist mayor.

L’institut Montaigne prefers to look on the bright side writing “there is no unique and organized Muslim communitarianism in France” even though they make several recommendations such as creating a theological school to produce French educated Imams and to teach Arabic in French public schools.

Whatever form the debate takes up to next year’s ballot, at least now all sides will be dealing with the same numbers.  As we know, figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Expect the numbers to be thrown around in all directions.

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