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PARIS: The first victims of radical Islam around the world are Muslims and this radical movement is an insult to French citizens of Muslim faith who observe their religion peacefully, according to Marlene Schiappa, French minister delegate in charge of citizenship.

Speaking to Arab News, she said: “Our objective will be to fight radical Islam by providing the locally elected with concrete tools to better control foreign funding and grants to associations, and thus counter hotbeds of separatism . . . we also need to prevent young people from enrolling into radical groups via social media, and falling prey to the Daesh propaganda.”

On April 11, the walls of the Avicenna Islamic Cultural Center in Rennes were covered with offensive tags against Muslims. Asked for her reaction to such Islamophobic acts committed in France, she said: “As the interior minister said, this is an insult to the country. In France, in 2021, we cannot condone the act of offending millions of innocent citizens who have no problems with the country as such. This is not my vision of France. I strongly condemn these acts, and I was very shocked by these outrageous tags.”

Talking about her visit to the Grand Mosque in Paris on April 12, she said: “I went to the mosque to meet the rector, Mr. Shems-Eddine Hafiz, on the eve of Ramadan. It was important for me to send a message of peace and solidarity to the French Muslim population, especially after the vile anti-Muslim tags that were inscribed on the site of a cultural center in Rennes.”

She added: “I had the pleasure of meeting dedicated women who are working to fight domestic, gender-based and sexual violence, and are helping their fellow citizens during these challenging times. This is a tough period for everybody.”

Explaining her position on the veil, she said: “I want to mention that a lot of incorrect things are already being said: No, the veil will not be banned in public spaces. It is false to say that the government is taking such a position, which only a few senators are in favor of. I am also aware of what’s going around about this issue, especially on social media,” she said.

“I am not in favor of banning the veil in the context of school trips, since I grew up in a city where most mothers wore the veil during these outings. If we prohibit the veil, we are effectively excluding a certain number of students’ mothers who are part of this country. This is not my goal. The notion of secularism applies to the state and to public services, but not to society per se, which is why secularism is a notion of neutrality intended for public services, and is a citizen’s choice.”

Asked about her assessment regarding the fight against radical Islam in France and the areas in which the government still has to work on, Schiappa said: “We have been working on the ground for three years, thanks to the action of the Cells for the Fight against Radical Islam and Community Withdrawal (CLIR). Since 2018, we have closed 559 institutions, and more than 22,000 inspections have been carried out throughout the territories as part of the CLIR. ”

She added: “Not one euro of public money, or of the French people’s money will go to the enemies of the republic. We must equip ourselves with tools on the ground to provide assistance specifically to the locally elected.”

The “draft legislation against separatism,” it is alleged, tends to scare the Muslim population living in France. Asked what she has to say to those who have reservations about this bill, she said: “We are working on this bill with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin with the aim of ensuring peace for Muslims, for all the French population.”

Asked how she views the progress of the female cause in the Arab world, she said: “I see the progress going in the right direction, equality between men and women being a fundamental value — moreover, protected in the charter of principles of Islam in France. We must carry on.”

On the integration of French people of Arab descent into French society, she said: “It is reassuring to observe that the majority of young people feel well integrated into French society. This is what a republic should be. We must fight racism and prejudices, conveyed in particular by the extreme right movement in France, and we should always keep in mind that the republic stands for equality, freedom and fraternity for all citizens. Secularism is the freedom to choose to believe or not to believe, without having to be worried about it, and therefore it is what protects us.”

Giving her Ramadan message to French Muslims, Schiappa said: “I would like to wish them a happy Ramadan. I also would like to convey the message that we are looking after them, the same way we do with all citizens living on French soil.”

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