The French prime minister sparked an unusual spat in recent days with comments about blocking French citizenship to a prominent – and controversial – Islamic academic, while in doing so also attacking a left-wing French lawmaker for supposed links to the scholar.
The lawmaker, Clémentine Autain of the leftist Ensemble (Together) movement, has threatened to sue Prime Minister Manuel Valls for his comments about ties between radical Islam and the far-left, made in a radio interview early this week, and denied his allegations that she had any links to Tariq Ramadan.
Ramadan, an Egyptian-Swiss expert in Islam who teaches at Oxford University, frequently addresses conferences for French Muslims, but critics have accused him of preaching fundamentalist Islam, anti-Semitism and advocating violence against women. Some Mayors of French cities have prohibited conferences where he is invited to speak.
Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan Al-Banna, the Egyptian founder of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. He was denied a visa to the U.S. for years until the Obama administration lifted the ban in 2010.
In the radio interview, Valls spoke of people who he said had helped stoke radicalization in the country, and accused the far left of collusion with radical Islam.
"Talks between people like Autain and Ramadan are ambiguous and form the breeding ground for violence and radicalization," he said. "These speeches create the perfect root for violence and radicalization."
Valls pointed to a conference on Islam last December where Ramadan was one of the key speakers, and claimed that Autain had urged people to assist to event.
Immediately after the interview, Autain threatened to sue Valls unless he apologized, and denied his claims about the conference.
She declared that she never met Ramadan nor shared any conference with him.
"These accusations must stop. They mean that I and my political family create the perfect conditions for terrorism. I refute these accusations. As the prime minister, Valls should encourage democratic debate instead of eliminating it with lies and insults," Autain said.
In the interview, Valls also said Ramadan – who in an entry on his Facebook page had declared an interest in acquiring French citizenship – should not be allowed to do so.
"Mr. Ramadan does not share our values, French values," he said. "Therefore there is no reason to give him French citizenship."
Reached by phone, Ramadan said he has not applied for French citizenship but was considering it. He noted he has been married to a French woman for a long time – since 1986 – and is therefore eligible for citizenship. Ramadan said he has Swiss and Egyptian nationalities, but it would make sense becoming a French citizen since he works a lot in France.
Marriage to a citizen for at least five years is a requirement for applicants for citizenship, along with several others including sufficient knowledge of the French language and the absence of criminal conviction.
But a lawyer dealing in citizenship cases said authorities have become more cautious in recent years due to concerns including an increase in fake marriages.
"Authorities that accept applications and deliver citizenship have been very careful and now ask applicants, in some cases only, to adhere to the values of the republic," added the lawyer, who did not want to be named.
Valls, whose week has been focused on dealing with major protests against labor reforms, has not commented further about the Autain-Ramadan issue.