France's racism watchdogs demand action after mosque stormed
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A day after French far-right extremists stormed a mosque in the town of Poitiers, anti-racism campaigners called on France's authorities on Sunday to take action against groups who "promote hatred" and "seek to divide" the country.
Anti-racism organisations in France are demanding the government launch a swift crackdown against far-right groups, following the storming of a mosque in the west of the country.
In strongly worded statements released on Sunday, two of France’s most high-profile racism watchdogs and a Muslim organisation asked the government to ban extremist groups, close their websites and prosecute individuals for inciting racial hatred.
The call from the Movement against Racism and for Friendship between People (MRAP), SOS Racism and the Union of Muslims in France (RMF) comes a day after around 70 members of a youth far-right group known as Generation Identity occupied a newly built mosque in the town of Poitiers.
The dawn raid was intended as a protest against what the far-right group regards as Islam's growing influence in France.
“What they did was scandalous. They basically declared war against Muslims in France,” Bernadette Hetier, co-president of MRAP, told FRANCE 24. “These groups are dangerous because they promote hatred. We have asked the government to prevent them publishing their intolerable propaganda.”
“The fundamental rights of all citizens must be respected but these extremists want the opposite. They are a real threat to cohesion because they want to divide France and Europe,” Hetier said, adding that such groups had "already been around for too long".
Evoking Charles Martel
The fanatics stormed the mosque at around 6am, climbed onto the roof and unfurled a banner daubed with the symbolic phrase “732 Generation Identity” – a reference to the year 732, when Charles Martel halted the advance of the invading Muslim army to the north of Poitiers.
The group have also made their views clear on their website, which bears the statement: “We do not want more immigration from outside Europe or new mosque construction on French soil”.
France's Interior Minister Manuel Valls blasted Saturday's dawn raid, describing it as "hateful provocation".
Four members of the group were arrested by police following the raid, while prosecutors in Poitiers said they were examining whether to press charges against the group for “holding an unauthorized protest and inciting racial hatred”.
On Sunday, MRAP and SOS Racism pointed the finger at France’s right-wing parties for stoking “xenophobic” fears and helping to “legitimise” groups like Generation Identity.
“Such acts must be strongly condemned by the entire political class,” SOS Racism said in its statement.
The Union of Muslims in France (RMF) said Saturday’s seven-hour occupation of the mosque reflected a dangerous rise in Islamophobia in a country that is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population.
“We want the authorities to take action to deal with this increasing climate of Islamophobia,” the Muslim group said in a statement. “This form of xenophobia threatens the very values of the French republic.”