Strasbourg: Muslims demand bigger mosque

GalliaWatch - 10 March 2009

The Ciel Association, that manages the Elsau mosque in Strasbourg, has been in conflict with city officials over their failure to construct a larger structure for the neighborhood Muslim population. Recently their anger and impatience resulted in outdoor prayers and a show of force at the municipal administration building.

This article, from a local paper, was scanned and put online by Bivouac-Id. It provides this background information:

The (Ciel) Association has been managing a place of worship on rue Mathias-Grunewald since 1989 - a basement that was flooded last May. The congregation refused to pray in the gymnasium of the Hans-Arp middle school and set up a tent on the sidewalk as an alternative solution. This tent was destroyed by a windstorm in early February. Ever since, the prayer meeting takes place in the street. In addition, Ciel has created a separate group - the Elsau Mosque Association - to oversee the building of a new neighborhood mosque.

The following is the main body of the article, somewhat condensed:

Before rolling up their rugs and tarpaulins on rue Mathias-Grunewald, the 180 faithful were urged to head for city hall.

"In his speeches, Olivier Bitz, in charge of religious issues, assures us that the door of city hall is always open. We're taking him at his word," explains Mustapha Allali, spokesman for the Ciel Association and leader of the new mosque project.

Around 2:00 p.m. a hundred people arrive at the door of the municipal building, where police are blocking the entrance. In the initial tense moments, a demonstrator calls out to the police: "If one of you pushes me, things will explode..."

Mustapha Allai goes past the police cordon in an attempt to meet with city official Jean-Michel Cros. Outside Hmida Boutghata, president of Ciel, explains to his group: "For 20 years we've been praying in a basement, nine months under a tent and one month in the street, and no one cares." (The crowd hisses and someone shouts: "Racists!") "And yet we have sent many letters to city hall. Our presence is legitimate. We want to be heard."

Inside, Mustapha Allali is still consulting with city officials. Outside, Mohammed Guerroumi, president of the Association of Franco-Algerians (AFALA) is getting impatient: "Think about 2014. We'll have you on your knees, like Trautmann and Grossmann."

Note: Catherine Trautmann was the socialist mayor of Strasbourg from 1989 to 2001. Robert Grossmann shared mayoral duties with Fabienne Keller from 2001 to 2008. Both are members of Sarkozy's UMP party. The threat made by Guerroumi obviously refers to mayoral elections scheduled for 2014.

"The SPCA is entitled to a subsidy of 30,000 euros. When Muslims demand a subsidy, out of respect for Article 18 of the universal declaration of human rights, they aren't even granted a reply!" yells Hmida Boutghata, while Guerroumi mockingly asks: "Where are the house Arabs?" in reference to Driss Ayachour, president of the Regional Council on the Muslim Religion.

Note: The regional councils are the local branches of the CFCM - French Council on the Muslim Religion, Sarkozy's creation, and one that has always been regarded with disdain by Muslims who see it as collaborating with the French State.

The tension rises. Some try to force their way in. There is pushing and shoving at the entrance. Mohammed Guerroumi and others intervene, while some shout "Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!" to the unperturbed police. In the crowd the demonstrators sing the Marseillaise.

The brief meeting, begun one hour ago, continues.

In the end, Mustapha Allali and Hmida Boughata are admitted to the offices of Jean-Michel Cros and Francis Jaecki, in charge of security. The discussion does not take very long. No sooner does he exit than Mustapha Allali shouts to the 50 persons still there these brutal remarks: "Roland Ries (mayor of Strasbourg) refuses to meet with Muslims. If it were a Jew or a Christian who called for him he would come right away, even if he were on vacation, he would come. Ries says: 'Stay in your basement, stay in your street. You are roaches. You are rats. You are sub-human. You are not French citizens. You are not French citizens.' From now on, we will do anything within the legal framework to fight Monsieur Ries. He must know that he has before him determined citizens - Muslims and proud of it."

Note: I have based the above translation on the video that accompanies the article, rather than the article itself. In the newspaper article, Allali is said to have shouted to the crowd that Roland Ries said: "You are shit, like the shit that flooded us." In the video showing the scene in question Allali does not say those words (as far as I can hear). Rather he says that Ries said "Stay in your basement, stay in your street. You are roaches. You are rats. You are sub-human. You are not French citizens. You are not French citizens." Since I am not sure who said what to whom (especially since the quotation marks are confusing), I decided to use the video as the source for the translation.

French readers might want to consult the video, and non-French readers should understand the basics even without a translation. (I had a few technical problems with the video also.)

Before dispersing, those present pray, using their jackets for rugs, on the square of city hall. The imam of Elsau mosque, Sami Ben Salem invites the faithful to come back next week for the Friday (March 6) prayer.

There is another article that covers the most recent outdoor prayer meeting held on March 6. However, to access it payment is required, and in order to pay, a phone call to France has to be made. I'll pass on that, considering the problems I had with the first article. Instead, here is the response of Olivier Bitz, mentioned above as being the city official in charge of religious issues, and who also appears in the video:

After the flood in May, we offered Ciel the gymnasium of the Hans-Arp middle school. Early this month, after the destruction of the tent by the storm, we offered the representatives a meeting to discuss temporary solutions. They cancelled the meeting at the last minute. They wanted to be more visible to the public.

To get out of the impasse, I offered them a meeting with myself and the chief of staff on March 11. To no avail. They want to be in a position of strength with the institutions of the Republic. But we will not act under pressure. Blackmail does not have a place when talking with public officials.

The agents ("porteurs") for the projected new mosque of Elsau complain of unequal treatment. But we are offering them the same conditions as those decreed in 1999 in deliberations subsidizing the grand mosque of Heyritz. That is, 10% of the cost of the work and a long-term lease on the land. The agents for the Elsau project want more. They want the land ceded to them free, as is done for the Concordat (of which Islam is not a part). But the municipality cannot modify the Concordat!

Our concern is to prevent the Muslims of Elsau from becoming hostages of the radicalization of certain ones...

Note: The Concordat in question was an agreement concluded in 1801 between First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII recognizing the Catholic faith as that of the majority of Frenchmen. When the law of 1905, separating Church and State, was passed, Alsace and Lorraine were part of Germany and did not come under this law. In 1918, when they became French, they maintained this exemption from the 1905 law, and thus remained Catholic, as opposed to "laïcité-bound", if I may coin a phrase. Today, in the Alsace-Moselle region catechism is taught in the public elementary schools.

Islam never came under the Concordat. But, by virtue of the fact that the State can legally build churches in Alsace-Moselle, Muslims have been demanding equal rights.

Source: Libre Pensée 64.

This passage is from Wikipedia:

The main terms of the Concordat of 1801 between France and Pope Pius VII included:

• A declaration that "Catholicism was the religion of the great majority of the French" but not the official state religion, thus maintaining religious freedom, in particular with respect to Jews and Protestants

• The Papacy had the right to depose bishops, but this made little difference, because the French government still nominated them.

• The State would pay clerical salaries and the clergy swore an oath of allegiance to the State.

• The Church gave up all its claims to Church lands that were confiscated after 1790.

• The Sabbath was reestablished as a "festival", effective Easter Sunday, 18 April 1802. The rest of the French Republican Calendar, which had been abolished, was not replaced by the traditional Gregorian Calendar until 1 January 1806.

The Concordat was abrogated upon the separation of Church and State law in 1905. However, some terms of the Concordat are still in effect in the Alsace-Moselle region, as it was controlled by the German Empire at the time of the law's passage.

More research is needed on this rather interesting topic. Does Islam have a case? It would not appear so.

The image below shows the princes of the French Church taking the oath of allegiance to the State.