The French newsmagazine L'Express reported today that a number of nations have expressed interest in France's civic and cultural degree program for Muslim prayer leaders (imams). Even more interesting is the claim that the American embassy in Paris has requested information on the program, launched late last year.
The cycle of higher eduation in question has been sponsored by the Catholic Institute of Paris, with assistance from the Grand Mosque of Paris and the French Interior Ministry. This has been described as a "secularizing" course of study, and carries the title "Religions, Secularism, Interculturality." In an earlier column I wrote that this was to include
400 hours of accredited instruction in four subject areas: one devoted to "general culture," including a history of "republican values"; a second for legislative matters, which will examine the rights and obligations of religion in France; a third on the subject of "openness," to explore religion's relation to the human sciences; and a fourth on "intercultural exchange."
More exactly, France's future imams will be asked to study French secular tradition, ponder the work of Enlightenment philosophers, and imbibe tremendous amounts of grammar.
Comment: France claims an official language, and is organized by centralizing logic. This fact, with the addition of France's official aversion to faith, has made Interior's program palatable to the nation - far more so than might be the case in the United States. In any case, it is difficult to imagine that the government's privileged interlocutors in matters of Islam (including the likes of the Council on American-Islamic Relations) would ever stand for this kind of meddling.