President Francois Hollande speaks of “a problem with Islam” in French society, in excerpts published Wednesday of a book in which he also suggests that immigration needs to be curbed.
“There is a problem with Islam because Islam requires (holy) sites and recognition,” Hollande told two journalists from Le Monde newspaper for the book which will be published Thursday. “It’s not Islam that poses a problem in the sense of its being a religion that is dangerous in itself, but because it wants to assert itself as a religion in the (French) republic,” he is quoted as saying in “Un president ne devrait pas dire ca”, which translates as “A president shouldn’t say this”.
Elsewhere in the book, Hollande says he thinks “there are too many arrivals, immigration that should not take place.” Immigration and national identity are key themes in campaigning for next year’s presidential election, which has echoes of the US race for the White House, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen riding high in the polls. Hollande also warned that the national symbol of his country could one day be a woman in a veil.
A string of extremist attacks in France in the past two years, coupled with the Europe-wide migrant crisis, have stoked anti-immigration sentiment. A heated debate about Muslim integration in staunchly secular France came to a head over the summer when around 30 towns banned the body-concealing burkini swimsuit.
France’s highest administrative court later ruled that such a ban was a “serious” violation of basic freedoms. The deeply unpopular Hollande has not yet declared whether he intends to stand for re-election. But his arch-rival Nicolas Sarkozy, bidding for the centre-right nomination, is campaigning heavily on populist anti-immigration themes.
Sarkozy on Sunday said that if elected he would call a referendum asking the French if they backed suspending the right for non-EU nationals to join family members in France — one of the main channels for immigration to the country.
In the tell-all book, Hollande also attacks Sarkozy’s “vulgarity, meanness and cynicism” and criticises the rival he defeated in 2012 for his fascination for money and his legal entanglements. The Le Monde journalists, Gerard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme, had exceptional one-on-one access to the president in 61 meetings.