Q. – Obviously [we must discuss] issues relating to the Arab world. We’ve seen that some cartoons have appeared in Charlie Hebdo [weekly satirical newspaper], cartoons which the CFCM [French Council of the Muslim Faith] has this morning said are an Islamophobic act. Have the stakes now been raised?
THE MINISTER – Yesterday, as you know, I was in Egypt to meet President Mursi and a whole series of leaders. I also met – and it’s very interesting – the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, who has great influence and recognition in the Muslim world. We talked about all this.
Let’s come back to France for a moment. In France, as you know, the principle is freedom of expression. We mustn’t undermine this principle. If this principle is undermined, an organization or an individual can lodge a complaint to the courts, and it’s up to the courts to issue a ruling. That’s the law, and there’s no question of going back on that law. The context now is the one you’ve mentioned: given the completely idiotic film, the absurd video that’s been shown, there’s strong emotion and even more than that in many Muslim countries…
Q. – And it’s continuing to cause problems, including in France, because a demonstration is planned and it’s clearly going to be banned.
THE MINISTER – Yes, of course. In that context, is it appropriate and intelligent – we were talking about this just before arriving – to, in a sense, fan the flames? The answer is no. But nor do we want to say to these people: “We’re undermining freedom of expression”. There’s a balance to be struck, if you like. I’m obviously very worried, because I’m the Minister of Foreign Affairs. When I saw this, I obviously sent instructions for special security precautions to be taken in all the countries where it may cause problems. We must pay attention to all this; we must be responsible.
Q. – And do you get the feeling today that what’s happening, what’s currently happening in the Arab world, is a reflection of the increased power of the Salafists or of a much more radical form of Islam?
THE MINISTER – I don’t think so. I think – and here I’m not talking about Charlie Hebdo at all, I’m talking about this whole video business and also the presence of the Salafists – there’s a kind of objective alliance between extremes. In other words, on the one hand you have, in this or that country – in this case it was the United States, but the American government has nothing to do with it – you have people – to put it simply, let’s call them the extreme right – who believe all Muslims are Islamists, terrorists, which is absurd and a lie. And on the other hand, you have Salafist extremists who would have people believe that in Western countries everyone is against Islam, which is equally absurd. In fact, they back each other up, in a way.
What we need is for reasonable people everywhere – and they’re the vast majority – to say: “Islam isn’t all that. Islam is a peaceful religion, and in Western countries the vast majority in no way corresponds to the caricature found in the video.” So we must reject this conflation./.