“We have a duty to be actors of peace together”, a French bishop has said by way of explanation of his participation in an anti-Islamophobia protest.
Driving the news
Dominique Blanchet, the Bishop of Belfort-Montbéliard, took part in a rally in Belfort in north-eastern France November 2 with over a thousand other people to show his support for the local Muslim community.
The demonstration was organised by a local mosque after a far-right National Rally politician forcibly told a local Muslim woman to remove her veil.
The protest also came just days after a former National Rally candidate shot and injured two Muslim worshippers after trying to burn down a mosque in Bayonne, in south-west France.
“What happened to her touched all of us here. Just like the attack on the Bayonne mosque”, Blanchet lamented.
The bishop said he attended the anti-Islamophobia rally “because for more than 20 years we have patiently woven a dialogue between religious leaders in the urban area of Nord Franche-Comté”.
He added that those two decades of local interfaith dialogue also explained the presence at the protest of Gilles Benhamou, the president of the local Jewish community.
“We have formed an alliance between religious leaders: when one of us is humiliated in some way, we show our support as a sign of brotherhood”, Blanchet explained.
“We do not unite simply to defend free religious expression in the public sphere, but also because we have a duty to be actors of peace together”.
Why it matters
Blanchet celebrated that local Muslims had been “touched” by his presence at the rally, and also that local Catholics had thanked him for his participation.
The bishop said that France has two immediate challenges before it: “both to fight against all forms of discrimination on the grounds of religion and to be very clear about the dangers of religious fanaticism”.
“The way to fight these two pitfalls is to develop a real interpersonal relationship with people of other faiths”, Blanchet affirmed.
“I do not talk with Islam but with Muslims.
“Too often we hear people talk about “Muslims”, without really knowing them personally.
“When I use the word fraternity, it is not a hollow word”.
For the record
Bishop Blanchet said he regarded local Muslim Association president Ali Saab as “a brother”.
“The political use of these questions is dangerous, it disconnects from reality and puts ideology in its place”, the bishop warned.
“We bishops of France can do much to develop this fraternity. This is not theory. It is a demanding path in the long term”, Blanchet said.
He added that the French episcopate seeks “to educate society not to be afraid of religions”, and to “move forward on the fraternal front”.