A ‘bizarre’ confrontation took place in the Paris suburb of Clichy on Friday when a French mayor and dozens of MPs and elected councillors tried to stop around 200 Muslims from praying in a street.
According to this report, Théo Maneval, a reporter for the Europe1 radio news site, described the scenes as “bizarre” and “surreal” as the elected officials, singing the Marseillaise, appeared to try and physically displace those praying by cleaving a path right through them.
It’s getting even more surreal, as the elected officials with their sashes try to jostle the people praying. Movement of crowd, jostling, people falling … The police intervene.
The local right wing mayor Remi Muzeau led the march to protest against the presence of hundreds of Muslim worshippers who have been praying in the town’s market square every Friday for the past nine months. Muzeau was happy with the way thing went:
We did what the police should have done a long time ago.
A line of riot police separated the two groups and at one one point tensions appeared ready to boil over.
Muslim worshippers had been using the square to pray in a protest against a recent decision by the mayor to close their usual prayer hall nearby, which had welcomed up to 5,000 Muslim worshippers each day.
Authorities opened a new mosque for the community, but it was 1.5km away and worshippers said it was hard to reach. Their Friday protests have been aimed at pressuring the local council to agree to open a prayer hall in the centre of Clichy.
But those protests have infuriated local officials, who have called on the government to intervene, pointing out that praying in the street is illegal in France.
Said President of Île-de-France Valerie Pecresse:
The public space cannot be taken over illegally. We are in a country where we do not pray in the street, the rules of law are being flouted.
France’s far right leader Marine Le Pen, who has long spoken out against Muslims praying in the street was quick to seize on the incident. She tweeted:
The Republic must go on the offensive in the face of Islamist provocations. What is the Minister of the Interior waiting for to restore public order and secularism? Laxity is not an option.
Rows over Muslims praying in public flare up regularly in strictly secular France. Worshippers have taken to the streets to pray in recent years often in protest over the shortage of mosques.
In 2015 there were calls by some in the Muslim community to turn some of the country’s many empty churches into mosques, which drew much opposition on the right.
And in 2010, prayers in the street became a national issue when Marine Le Pen provoked outrage by comparing street prayers to the Second World War, likening them to an “occupation.”