Prime Minister Francois Fillon urged France's Muslims on Monday to reject full face veils as a sectarian caricature of Islam, a week before parliament debates a law banning burqas and niqabs in public.
Inaugurating a mosque in a northwestern Paris suburb, he said French Muslims should combat a tiny radical minority using face veils as a way to combat the integration of a tolerant Islam that respects the separation of church and state.
This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com
"The Islam of France, the Islam you practice daily, has nothing to do with this caricature that dims the lights of your faith," Fillon, the most senior French politician to inaugurate a mosque in decades, said to applause from the crowd.
"You should stand in the front line against this hijacking of the religious message ... it's up to you to make intelligence triumph over obscurantism and tolerance over intolerance."
Fillon defended the plan to ban full veils, saying the government had to defend some groundrules of society.
"This minority practice, which flouts the basic rules of living together and scandalises our citizens, amounts to radical behaviour that does not reflect the reality of Islam," he said.
The prime minister made clear he recognised Muslims' concern about a growing trend of anti-Muslim feeling they saw in France, noting that six mosques had been defaced or attacked last year and several Muslim graves vandalised early this year.
"Thirty percent of all acts of racist violence (last year), mostly threats, were made against Muslims," he said.
Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Muslim Council (CFCM), said Fillon was welcome after the tensions raised by the national identity and veil debates. "His presence is a gesture of recognition and respect," he told the daily La Croix.