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06PARIS3783 2006-06-06 12:30:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
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1. (C) Summary: Leaders of the regional Muslim Council
(CRCM) in Rhone-Alpes stressed a message of unity and
moderation during a joint meeting with poloff in Lyon May 31.
The CRCM leaders, who represent three rival factions within
the national French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM),
stressed their determination to work together to foster a
moderate French Islam, free of foreign influence and funding.
They also emphasized the need to reinterpret the Qur'an to
bring it in line with the 21st century and European mores,
and described inter-faith dialogue as an obligation for all
Muslims. The CRCM leaders floated the idea of taxes on halal
meat sales or travel of French hajj pilgrims to Mecca as
possible ways to fund religious projects locally. The CRCM
leaders also identified mosque construction as a pressing
priority, and cited two major mosque construction projects
which they claimed were funded entirely from domestic funds.
The CRCM leaders affirmed eagerness for greater dialogue with
the USG, and posed numerous questions on Muslims in the U.S.,
the U.S. immigrant experience, and U.S. foreign policy. End

2. (C) During a May 30-31 public diplomacy outreach trip to
Lyon, poloff met with representatives of the Rhone-Alpes
Regional Council for the Muslim Faith (CRCM), including local
leaders from the Union for Islamic Organizations in France
(UOIF), Algerian-backed Paris Grand Mosque affiliates, and
the Morocco-backed National French Muslim Federation (FMNF).
It was the first time emboffs attended such a group meeting
with the three leading groups within the national French
Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM), which has been plagued
by internal rivalries between these organizations since its
2003 launch. Most of the discussion was led by UOIF
representative/CRCM President Azzedine Gaci, a
Franco-Algerian physics professor apparently in his mid-40's
who has served as the regional CRCM president since early


3. (C) In contrast to Paris-based CFCM leaders, the
Rhone-Alpes CRCM representatives sought to present a unified
front to poloff, stressing a common interest in fostering a
uniquely French Islam, free from the interference of foreign
governments and the GoF, and relevant to daily life in Europe
-- which one leader quipped, had "nothing to do with what's
happening in Saudi Arabia." The CRCM leaders emphasized the
importance of "ijtihad" -- reinterpretation of sayings of
the prophet Muhammad and other Qur'anic precepts subject to
interpretation -- as an essential part of bringing Islam
into harmony with the 21st century and Western locales. They
also stressed a common refusal to recognize foreign fatwas
and a shared desire to reduce dependency on foreign funding.
CRCM representatives said that, ideally, they would like to
reduce foreign funding to zero, but in cases where this was
not possible, they would ensure that donor governments like
Morocco, Algeria and Turkey understood that they could not
manage internal religious affairs in France the way they did
at home. The FMNF representative defended some aspects of
foreign government funding, noting that the Moroccan
government funded five full-time Arabic teachers in his
district who taught during the week at public schools and
offered weekend Arabic instruction at mosques, without
crossing over into Qur'anic instruction. The Rhone-Alpes
CRCM members also stressed inter-faith dialogue as a common
priority, with CRCM President Gaci affirming that respecting
Jews and Christians was a religious obligations for all

4. (C) The Lyon CRCM leaders, in contrast to many of our
Paris-based Muslim contacts, expressed confidence in their
ability to raise money locally, despite a generally
low-income population base. They claimed that revenues from
halal meat sales -- which they estimated to be a five billion
euro a year market in Europe -- were a potential funding
bonanza for religious projects in France, if a mechanism
could be created to tax such sales and channel the proceeds
into community projects. They noted that the Jewish
community in France received sizable funding from similar
taxes of kosher food sales. (Comment: In 2004, then-Interior
Minister de Villepin floated the idea of using proceeds from
halal meat sales to fund religious projects in France; the
proposal never got off the ground and has not been a visible
priority since Nicolas Sarkozy took over MOI again in June

2005. End comment.) Taxes on hajj travel by French citizens
was another potential source of funding cited by the CRCM
representatives; Bilal Grand Mosque (Paris Grand Mosque
affiliated) President Abdelkader Bendidi noted that some

PARIS 00003783 002 OF 002

26,000 French nationals traveled to Saudi Arabia annually for
the hajj pilgrimage, surpassing Tunisia, and putting France
on a par with Morocco and Algeria in numbers of hajj

5. (C) UOIF representative/CRCM President Azzedine Gaci
described new mosque construction as a pressing need for
French Muslims in the Rhone-Alpes area; he cited statistics
that Germany has some 3,000 mosques for its population of 3
million Muslims, while France has only 1,600 mosques for its
estimated Muslim population of 5 to 6 million. (Comment:
Independent studies suggest that some two-thirds of the
French Muslim population is non-practicing, which could
explain the lower mosque numbers in France compared to
Germany. End comment.) The CRCM meeting took place in the
brand-new, UOIF-affiliated mosque in the Lyon suburb of
Villeurbaine, which Gaci said was paid for entirely by local
donations. (Comment: The Villeurbaine mosque is impressive
in its size and dcor, and accommodates some 1,200
worshippers for Friday prayers. Facilities include a
two-story prayer room with a separate floor for women, a
library, and four classrooms providing Arabic language
classes and religious instruction for children on weekends.
We visited the mosque on a day off for French school
children, and found the courtyard teeming with young children
playing, with an even ratio between veiled and unveiled
girls; inside a coed classroom of preschool-age children were
rote learning a song in Arabic, in a scene which could have
taken place in any Arab capital. End comment.)

6. (C) In another example of local fundraising, the FMNF
representative proudly showed poloff photos of a new, 2.2
million euros mosque under construction in the Loire regional
capital of St. Etienne, expected to open in 2007. Like Gaci,
the FMNF representative claimed that the new mosque was
funded entirely from local donations collected over the past
30 years, with some local donors of modest means contributing
gold wedding jewelry in lieu of cash. The land for the new
mosque was acquired in a land swap with the city of St.
Etienne, which wanted to build a new concert center on the
grounds of the existing mosque.

7. (C) The Rhone-Alpes CRCM representatives posed numerous
questions to poloff on Islam in the U.S. and U.S. foreign
policy, which they conceded that many of their parishioners
viewed as hostile to Muslims. In response to their
questions, poloff briefed them on the history and composition
of the U.S. Muslim population and the ways it differs from
that of France, U.S. concepts of secularism and religious
liberty, and the U.S. immigrant experience. Poloff stressed
that Muslims are a vital part of the fabric of U.S. society,
and that the U.S. has promoted the freedom and security of
Muslim populations throughout the world, from Somalia, to
Bosnia and Kosovo, to Afghanistan and Iraq. The meeting
closed with the CRCM representatives expressing eagerness to
continue dialogue with the embassy after this first
encounter, and confirming willingness to receive more USG and
private American delegations.

8. (C) Comment: While we have no doubt that the CRCM
representatives were tailoring their message to a USG
audience, we did view them as sincere in their stated desire
to work together and their openness to greater dialogue with
the U.S. Many local observers of Muslim community issues
have speculated that the regional Muslim councils are "where
the action is," as the CFCM at the national level continues
to flounder, amid internal divisions and GoF meddling. We
also note that the CRCM group described in this cable is not
affiliated with Lyon Grand Mosque Rector Kamal Kabtane, who
resigned as CRCM president in late 2004 and was the subject
of an unusual MFA demarche reported reftel; according to
media reports, Kabtane and current CRCM president Gaci remain
bitter rivals. End comment.

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