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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09PARIS1495 2009-11-06 15:03:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
Cable title:  

FRENCH RESPONSE TO THE 2009 IRF REPORT

Tags:   PHUM PREL KDEM PGOV KIRF KISL FR 
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VZCZCXRO1395
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHFR #1495/01 3101503
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 061503Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7494
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 001495 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/06/2019
TAGS: PHUM PREL KDEM PGOV KIRF KISL FR
SUBJECT: FRENCH RESPONSE TO THE 2009 IRF REPORT

REF: A. SECSTATE 108536

B. PARIS 001442

Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Kathy Allegrone, Reasons
1.
4(b), (d).



1. (C) SUMMARY: Press and public reaction to the 2009
International Religious Freedom (IRF) report in France has
been largely muted since its public release on October 26.
However, in a follow up meeting, the MFA offered a more
critical response to the report, characterizing the
Scientology case and the burqa debate as judicial matters
rather than religious issues as well as recommending ways to
report on religious freedom issues in France in the future.
END SUMMARY.

MINIMAL PRESS AND PUBLIC REACTION


--------------------------




2. (C) There has been little French public and press
reaction since the report was released, despite the fact that
it was the fourth most widely read IRF report in 2008,
according to DRL internet site analysis. Readership may grow
again this year once Embassy Paris posts the report in French
on our website in late November.

DIFFERENT APPROACHES, SHARED GOALS


--------------------------




3. (C) Poloff delivered the 2009 IRF report to the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs on October 27 and then reached out to the
newly created MFA Religions Bureau (see reftel b) for a
follow up meeting on October 30. The first of its kind in
history, this new office was created on June 1 and is
designed to look at international religious trends and their
political implications for France. When asked about the
MFA,s response to the IRF report, the head of the Bureau
Joseph Maila focused primarily on the difference in approach
to writing the report and in the interpretation of issues.
With its focus on secularism, Maila stressed that a report on
religious freedom would not be published by the GOF in the
same way, as France refrains from collecting statistics on
its own ethnic and religious demographic. Maila underscored
the French value of laicit (secularism) and remarked that
the GOF defense of secularism represents not a divergence in
values but a difference in approach in dealing with shared
goals and similar challenges of managing large and diverse
populations.

QUESTIONS ABOUT METHODOLOGY


--------------------------




4. (C) Maila stated that he learned much about his own
country through our report but that some of the reporting
raised questions in his own mind about our approach. Maila
questioned the State Department methodology in writing the
report, commenting that polls drawn from the Roman Catholic
newspaper La Croix for example were not scientifically-based
and resembled more the work of an NGO. He suggested
verifying the material provided by our contacts and
fact-checking with the GOF against possibly biased sources to
ensure our neutrality as an international observer in France
and to provide a more balanced report.

LEGAL OR RELIGIOUS ISSUE


--------------------------




5. (C) Clearly stung by the opening lines in the report,s
introductory remarks on France, Maila expressed
disappointment that we chose to "finger-point" and directly
accuse the GOF of discriminating against sects like
Jehovah,s Witnesses. He further responded that the French
state does not actively target the Church of Scientology but
only seeks due process in the allegations of fraud.
Emphasizing that the religion is not on trial in the
high-profile Scientology case, Maila explained that the
judicial determination was based on the facts of the case,
not the beliefs of the members. He recognized our concerns
about the implications of the dissolution or an effective ban
on the Church of Scientology in France but continued to
highlight the legal and not religious nature of the trial
itself.



6. (C) When asked his views on the current burqa debate,
Maila quickly applauded the work of the Parliamentary
commission tasked with investigating the wearing of burqas in
France. Calling the debate on national identity recently
spurred by Immigration Minister Eric Besson a completely
separate issue from the question of burqas, he spoke of the
need to pro-actively study French integration and
assimilation of minorities, stating that he believes
secularism is under attack. Referring to the burqa
controversy as fueled by politics and not a matter of
religious discrimination, Maila said that the public space in
France must reflect French values and cannot mimic the U.S.
in that regard, which he commented has a greater visibility
of ethnic minorities.

PARIS 00001495 002 OF 002



MFA RECOMMENDATIONS FOR 2010 REPORT: LOOK AT THE EUROPEAN NORM


--------------------------



--------------------------




7. (C) Calling the European regulations on religious freedom
both normative and widely accepted, Maila asked that we look
at the European position on religious freedom, since France
shares a viewpoint consistent with its fellow EU members.
Referencing the controversial case of the Sikh men who
refused to take off their turbans, he stressed that the
European Court of Human Rights ruled against them, stating
that ears must be featured in photographs for security
purposes. Applying the same logic to the wearing of burqas,
Maila underscored the potential security threat the Islamic
veils posed to French society. Emphasizing that the priority
of the French state is to protect the individual and to
preserve public order, he reiterated that the burqa debate
raises the question of assimilation and not of clothes or
religion. MFA Religion Bureau staffer Djilali Benchabane
added that the report made no effort to acknowledge the
evolution and steady progress made in France over the years.
His colleague David Behar identified the real challenge of
these country-specific reports as their tendency to ignore
the tremendous efforts at the EU-level.

ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT


--------------------------




8. (C) Maila commented that the Scientology case and the
burqa debate do not represent the key issues in French
domestic policy and in fact provided a distorted picture of
what is actually going on in France. Moreover, he said that
France feels "fingered" by the U.S. on these issues and is
portrayed inaccurately as a country that persecutes religious
minorities despite the fact that our two countries share the
same constitutional protections and ultimately the same
goals. The Religion Bureau asked for enhanced engagement
with Embassy Paris and we committed to meeting on a regular
basis. As the Parliamentary inquiry on burqas is due to
present their findings and recommendations in late November
and the appeal of the Scientology fraud conviction is likely
to last several months, Embassy Paris will seek to engage in
greater dialogue with the MFA to discuss the issues and raise
our concerns with the GOF.

RIVKIN