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Will France Follow the “Tunisian Model”?

Al-Nahar, Lebanon, July 25

The Tunisian government recently began cracking down on mosques in the country, following last month’s terror attack in the city of Sousse, where a masked man gunned down 38 tourists.

Across the Mediterranean, it seems, the French government carefully observed the “Tunisian model,” and recently announced that it will shut down 80 mosques operating without permits.

Granted, the idea of shutting down mosques is not new in France. Some 40 Muslim clerks were expelled from France since President Francois Holland stepped into office, including 12 imams earlier this year. However, the new Tunisian policy breaks a long-standing taboo in Europe: the sanctity of mosques and religious figures.

France, home to the largest Muslim community in Europe, is expecting the number of mosques in the country to double by 2017. Recently, the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Paris suggested turning unused churches into mosques, in order to accommodate the Muslims’ growing needs. Expectedly, this proposal was met with a strong public backlash; including from former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The fact that a Muslim government decided to act against the holy sites of its own people is likely to change Europe’s attitude towards Muslims. It sets a precedent that allows European governments – in France and elsewhere – to target religious figures in sites if it believes they are dangerous or illegitimate.

With religious tensions already at an all-time high in Europe, it is highly unlikely that such a policy, if implemented, will be met unchallenged.  The Tunisian model might prove to be a milestone in Europe’s attitude towards its every-growing Muslim minority. – Jihad al-Zayen