French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that halal food in schools and special hours so that Muslim women can swim out of view of men are in contradiction with the French principle of secularism.
Such issues âshould be considered not as religious facts, but as facts of civilization,'' he said, insisting that French civilization must prevail in France.
Muslims, and immigration, are constant themes in recent French presidential races, but the topic is rising to the fore with vehemence as the April 22 first-round vote nears â 50 days from now. The final round is May 6.
There are an estimated 5 million Muslims in France, the largest such population in Western Europe, and the latest generation is making increasing demands that the country accommodate needs set out by their religion or their customs.
"There is no place in the republic for xenophobia, there is no place for racism â¦ There is no place for pools with hours for men and hours for women," Sarkozy told a rally Saturday in Bordeaux.
Critics say Sarkozy is seeking to attract supporters away from extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who is third in polls after front-runner Francois Hollande, a Socialist, and the conservative president. Le Pen, who succeeds party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father, has worked to erase the image of the party as anti-Semitic â but now castigates what she says is the profile of Islam in France.
The team of Hollande, the Socialist candidate, castigated Sarkozy that his position âscapegoats, stigmatizes'' Muslims.
Jerome Sainte-Marie of the CSA polling firm, monitoring the rally with BFM television, said that with Sarkozy's showing in polls he must work the terrain where he does best.
"Nicolas Sarkozy has no other choice but to turn the tables and transform this election into a referendum on national identity," Sainte-Marie said.
Elaine Ganley, "Sarkozy nixes halal meat in schools for Muslims" Boston Globe March 3, 2012
"Campaigning Sarkozy excludes special consideration for Muslims" Newsday March 4, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today