PARIS – Leading French bishop has voiced alarm at rising anti-Muslim sentiments in the French society as well as within the Roman Catholic church, joining Muslims in calls for the French President to speak against the worsening phenomenon.
"It is with much pain that I notice the emergence of a Catholic Islamophobia, in the same way that there has been a Catholic anti-semitism for centuries," the Bishop of Angouleme, Claude Dagens, told Agence France Presse (AFP) in an interview on the sidelines of an assembly of French bishops in Paris.
Dagens said his concerns had been heightened by the controversial "Muslim demographics" presentation made at the Vatican last month.
The video was screened by Cardinal Peter Turkson, the president of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, during an international meeting of bishops earlier this week.
The clip alleges that Europe will cease to exist because of the rising numbers of Muslims.
The seven-minute clip says Muslim immigration and higher birth rates will turn France into “an Islamic republic” within 39 years.
The Vatican subsequently distanced itself from the film, but Dagens acknowledged that the episode reflected a worrying shift in attitudes.
"We are living in a society where fear is seeping into every corner,” the bishop said.
“That's true for Muslims but also for Catholics."
France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, Europe’s largest.
French Muslims have been complaining of growing restrictions on their religious freedoms.
In 2004, France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places. Several European countries followed the French example.
France has also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy has adopted a series of measures to restrict Muslim freedoms in an effort to win support of far-right voters.
The French government also outlawed Muslim street prayers, a sight far-right leader Marine Le Pen likened to the Nazi occupation.
Muslims have also complained of restrictions on building mosques to perform their daily prayers.
The comments made by the Bishop of Angouleme followed calls by France Muslim Council for President Francois Hollande to publicly condemn Islamophobia.
"Given the rise in the number of Islamophobic acts and anti-Muslim racism, we want a formal declaration from the President of the Republic that includes the Muslims of France in this national cause," Abdellah Zekri, one of the leaders of the Muslim Council, told AFP.
Muslims also accused Hollande and his ministers of giving greater priority to combating a recent rise in anti-semitism than they have to defending the Muslim community in the face of a parallel trend.
Zekri called for France's Islamic community to be offered similar support.
Last April, Amnesty International issued a report criticizing France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland for discriminating against their Muslim minorities.
The London-based group said several European countries have made policy decisions in recent years that discriminate against their Muslim citizens, citing bans on face-veils and other religious symbols in schools as being among the most damaging measures.
A poll by French paper Le Fegaro suggests that an overwhelming majority of Muslims voted for Hollande’s Socialist party, including some Muslim women who wanted an end to the state’s intrusive policies like the burqa ban.
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