It may like to call itself proudly the “birthplace of human rights”, but when it comes to dealing with Islamist clerics, France is rarely reluctant to set such scruples aside.
The country waited only days after the London bombings before summarily expelling its first two radical preachers. It has since sent two more packing and plans to deport a total of some two dozen by the end of this month.
Underlining a longstanding difference in approach between London and Paris, an interior ministry official said France had “no problem whatsoever” in deporting anyone accused of inflaming anti-western feeling – even if they had French citizenship and were formally recognised as preachers by the Muslim community.
The planned arrests and expulsions follow repeated statements by the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, since the July 7 London attacks that France “must and will act against radical preachers capable of influencing the youngest and most weak-minded”.
Fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, that in Britain have, until very recently, protected the controversial clerics, count for precious little in France when the speech concerned is considered an incitement to hatred or violence.