President Nicolas Sarkozy har som den første ledende europeiske politiker ytret seg positivt om sveitsernes minaretforbud. Han appellerte til Frankrikes muslimer om å utøve sin tro i beherskede former. Utspillet er en del av debatten om nasjonal identitet.

´The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking at a roundtable meeting at Geispolsheim, near Strasbourg. Photograph: Christophe Karaba/EPA

Nicolas Sarkozy today voiced sympathy for Switzerland’s controversial decision to ban the building of Muslim minarets, calling on religious practitioners to avoid «ostentation» and «provocation» for fear of upsetting others.

The French president said he was surprised by the widespread criticism of the outcome of last week’s referendum in Switzerland when 57% voted to proscribe the building of new minarets in a country that has four, and is home to 400,000 Muslims.

Sarkozy’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, promptly denounced the Swiss decision last week, saying he was shocked and scandalised and calling for the ban to be reversed.

But writing in the Le Monde newspaper, Sarkozy defended the Swiss in arguing for the necessity of the contentious debate on national identity he has sponsored in France.

«How can you not be amazed at the reaction that this decision has produced in certain media and political circles in our own country,» Sarkozy said. «Instead of condemning the Swiss out of hand, we should try to understand what they meant to express and what so many people in Europe feel, including people in France.»

He was the first national leader in Europe to offer a detailed opinion on a decision that the Swiss government has criticised as discriminatory and probably illegal, if implemented.

Sarkozy called for discretion from France’s 6 million Muslims, the biggest Muslim community in Europe, in their observance of religion, while pledging to fight all discrimination.

«Christians, Jews, Muslims, all believers regardless of their faith, must refrain from ostentation and provocation and … practise their religion in humble discretion.» Muslims would need to find a way of integrating in France «without conflicting with our social and civic pact» while moderate Islam would fail if Muslims sought to challenge the country’s republican value system or Christian heritage.

Politiske motstandere hevder at debatten om nasjonal identitet er et forsøk på å kapre stemmer fra høyrepopulister. Debatten har – i likhet med mange andre land -kommet til å dreie seg om burka og niqab, og dette er demagogisk, sier sosialistenes leder, Aubrey.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit underskrev igår et opprop hvor man ba om at ingen deltok i debatten om nasjonal identitet.

Sarkozy defends Switzerland minaret ban

President calls for France’s Muslims to practice a ‘discreet’ form of the religion