SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- French and German leaders sought Thursday to reassure Muslims about their place in European society, cementing calls for unity after a series of attacks last week in France by Islamic extremists.
Speaking at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris, President François Hollande said that Islam is compatible with democracy and Muslims are the main victims of Islamist militants.
“Muslims are the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance,” Mr. Hollande said. “We must repeat everywhere…that Islam is compatible with democracy and we must reject sweeping generalizations and confusion.”
France has witnessed a spate of anti-Muslim acts, including attacks on mosques, since the attacks by three gunmen in and around Paris that killed 17 people. The government has dispatched more than 10,000 troops to secure places of worship of all religions.
“French Muslims have the same rights and the same duties as every citizen. They must be protected,” Mr. Hollande said, adding that the country’s secular model “protects all religions.”
In Germany, the attacks have added fuel to a heated debate over the threat posed by radical Islam and how willing some Muslims are to accept the rules of a largely secular culture.
Thousands of protesters have been holding weekly rallies since October to denounce what they call an “Islamization” of Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel , who has condemned the protests as xenophobic, reiterated in a speech to parliament Thursday in Berlin that Islam belongs in Germany.
Ms. Merkel has appealed for national unity and said her government is doing everything it can to ensure migrants successfully integrate into Germany regardless of their religion.
She also called on Islamic leaders to clarify the relationship between their religion and the militants who claim to act in its name. Most Germans aren’t hostile toward the teachings of the Quran, she said, but they also aren’t sure which version of Islam belongs to Germany—a militant or a peaceful one.
“They want to know why terrorists have so little regard for the value of human life and why they tie their crimes to their faith. They ask how they can trust the phrase that murderers who claim to act in the name of Islam have nothing to do with Islam,” Ms. Merkel said.
“I want to emphasize that these are valid questions. I believe we urgently need a clarification of these questions by Islam’s religious leaders. This issue can’t be evaded any longer,” she said.
Terrorists may believe that they are “allowed to act, punish, kill on God’s behalf,” she said, “but for me, this is nothing but blasphemy.”
Ms. Merkel also said Europe should act fast to improve security laws.
She called on the European Commission—the European Union’s executive arm—to quickly provide revised guidelines over the retention of individuals’ phone and Internet data that would allow better prevention and investigation of crimes. Germany would then quickly implement these rules, Ms. Merkel said.
The German cabinet Wednesday approved a draft bill to allow authorities to withdraw the national identification cards of suspected Islamic extremists, in bid to prevent them from traveling to Syria and Iraq and receive training from Islamic State militant groups.
German security officials estimate that some 550 Islamists have left Germany and headed to Syria since 2012. Officials are concerned that those returning may have radicalized further and gained military training.