French far-right groups block Great Mosque plans

A French court Tuesday ordered construction work on a mosque in the Mediterranean port of Marseille to be suspended in response to legal action by far-right groups.

The court found in favor of the National Front (FN), the Movement for France (MPF), and the National Republican Movement (MNR), who accused the city of granting a veiled subsidy for the mosque’s construction, violating French law on the separation of Church and state.

Marseille city hall decided last July to break a decades-long deadlock over the future mosque by allocating a plot of land for its construction, on a 99-year lease, for a charge of €300 per year. The Marseille administrative court overturned the city’s decision, ruling that the generous conditions amounted to a subsidy in disguise, demanding that the mosque renegotiate the terms of the lease in the next two months.

Jean-Claude Gondard, secretary-general of Marseille city hall, said that the court decision would cause a delay of three to four months at most, and that a new lease would be submitted to the city council in June. He said that the city was committed to file for planning permission in the autumn, but that “the mosque’s opponents are very political, and liable to try to block the project every step of the way.”

Moulay Abderrahmane Ghoul, regional head of the French Council for the Muslim Religion, denounced the far-right lawsuit as a “xenophobic and racist political act,” but said “the city’s will to build the mosque” was not in question.

But the MNR hailed the decision as a “judicial and political victory … against the Islamization of France.” And Philippe de Villiers, presidential candidate for the Catholic nationalist MPF, welcomed the ruling, calling for a moratorium on all mosque constructions and a charter “imposing respect for the laws of the republic on Islam.”

Middle East Times, 18 April 2007