March 30, 2018 / 9:31 AM / a month ago

Most French want Macron crackdown on radical Islamists: polls

PARIS (Reuters) - Most French people want Muslims suspected of harbouring extremist views detained if they appear on spy agency watchlists and would back a ban on ultra-conservative Salafist Islam, two polls showed after the latest deadly attack in France.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the Artificial Intelligence for Humanity event in Paris, France, March 29, 2018. Etienne Laurent/Pool via Reuters

Right-wing opponents of Emmanuel Macron have demanded the president get tough on security and suggest there would be widespread public support for steps targeting mosques and imams preaching hate, as well as foreigners deemed a threat.

An Odoxa poll published on Friday showed 87 percent wanted people suspected of religious radicalisation to be put in detention, and 88 percent favoured banning Salafist Islam.

An Elabe survey showed 80 percent backed the expulsion of radicalised foreigners, while more than half of its respondents said Macron was not doing enough to counter terrorism.

The president wants to redraw the relationship between France’s Muslims and the secular French state. He is not the first.

Since the late 1980s, successive Paris governments have tried but failed to nurture a liberal “Islam of France” that would help integrate the faith into a mostly secular society.

The issue is back in focus after a Moroccan-born French national killed four people in southwestern France on March 23, proclaiming allegiance to Islamic State. About 240 people have now been killed in France since early 2015 by militants or inspired by the ultra-hardline Islamic State group.

Salafist Islam, the puritan literalist interpretation of the faith that is the basis for Islamic State’s violent ideology, says Muslims must return to the practices of early Islam in the seventh century and shun many aspects of modern Western life.

Opposition politicians including centre-right leader Laurent Wauquiez and far-right chief Marine Le Pen have demanded the expulsion of all foreigners on the so-called Fiche S watchlists of the intelligence services. They contain about 20,000 people, of which about 10,000 for reasons of religious radicalisation or connections.

Former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls urged the government to consider internment in cases where a real risk of militant activity is perceived.

Valls has also pressed for a ban on Salafism, a step current Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has so far dismissed.

“You cannot ban an idea but you can punish its consequences if they undermine public order, the laws or the republic or the basic rules of society,” Philippe told lawmakers this week.

France, a traditionally Catholic nation, formally separated church and state a century ago and strict secularism is the official rule. The country has Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities. The latter is estimated to number upwards of five million.

Reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Richard Lough and Mark Heinrich

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