Muslims are hurt by some political leaders remarks that have “stigmatised” them, the president of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF) declared when he opened the conference at Le Bourget, north of Paris.
The day before Interior Minister Claude Guéant declared that the government was watching the meeting “very attentively” in case “republican law” is infringed.
Police would intervene if women wearing cover appeared in the public place in front of the meeting, Guéant said, invoking France’s burka law, one of the bones of contention between President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government and the UOIF.
And he said he regretted the fact that Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss academic of Egyptian origin, was due to speak on Saturday because of the “ambiguous” statements he has made in the past.
In the aftermath of Mohamed Merah’s killing spree in Toulouse and Montauban and with a presidential election campaign in full swing, the French state’s relations with its Muslim citizens are once again subject of intense debate.
Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has demanded that the UOIF be banned, because “our country’s leaders consider [it] to be close to the Islamists, if not to terrorists”.
The day after her statement the government banned Youssef Qaradaoui, a Qatari imam of Egyptian origin who had been invited to speak the conference, from entering the country.
Five other imams were also prevented from attending, accused of extremist and/or anti-Semitic tendencies.
Jaballah declared himself “surprised” by the accusations, saying that they were “generally” moderate and had never made anti-Semitic remarks although they had defended the right of Palestinians to have a homeland.
Events leading up to the 2012 conference mark a final rupture between President Nicolas Sarkozy and the UOIF.
In 2002 he encouraged the organisation to join the Muslim umbrella group, CFCM, established under his auspices as interior minister, and he addressed its annual conference in 2003.
The UOIF said Friday that it had received about 10 threats or Islamophobic caricatures in the run-up to the conference.
It claims to be Islamist but democratic, like Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).