French Prime Minister Manuel Valls recently outlined plans to double the amount of university courses teaching Islam in an attempt to curb the rise of Islamist and far-right extremism in France. During a speech in the eastern city of Strasbourg, Valls affirmed that supporting education in France was essential to erasing the ignorance that makes “Islamist extremism and the far-right extremism feed off each other.”
Recent polls show that the far-right National Front has secured a lead in France’s upcoming local elections. Its leader Marine Le Pen attacked the government for “20 years of mistakes on immigration and Europe” in a recent New York Times article.
“The rise of far-right populist politics, in Europe as well as in our own country, feeds directly off the rise of jihadism, terrorism and radical extremism. It is a situation that puts our democracy, our society and our capacity to live together in extreme jeopardy,” said Valls.
France has Europe’s largest Muslim population. Valls maintained that he hope for more imams and prison chaplains to be trained in France. They would receive education in French republican values and “undergo more training in France, to speak French fluently and to understand the concept of secularism.”
There are now six universities in France that offer courses in Islamic studies and theology. Valls said he intended to double that number to 12 and that the courses would be free. “The only response to the dangers that we face is the French Republic,” Valls said. “This means the acceptance of the secular state, improving education, universities, understanding and intelligence.”
“But there will be no laws, decrees or government directives to define what Islam means,” Valls said. “The French state will never attempt to take control of a religion.”