“If moderate Muslims buy Saint-Eloi’s, we can only be happy that the Muslims of Vierzon are able to celebrate their religion,” he said in an interview explaining his sermon. “If on the other hand they were extremists, that would be another question, knowing that there are extremists in all religions.”
But Krauth’s open-mindedness was not shared by all. After an item in the local newspaper, Le Berry Republicain, the murmurs began. Cafe conversations proliferated. Krauth said he got a dozen calls. Some were polite, others not. His office received about 20 e-mails. Some commended him; others asked how he could betray a place of Christian worship to the Muslims.
Comments popped up on the Internet, meanwhile, some of them raw. One suggested throwing a pig into the church to discourage Muslims from making the purchase. Alerted, reporters and cameramen from Paris showed up to ask questions about the rise of Islam. Before long the proposed sale of Saint-Eloi’s escalated into the latest example of France’s difficulty in dealing with a growing minority of people born into families of Muslim tradition.
The Interior Ministry and most academic specialists have estimated the community in France numbers at least 5 million, the largest in Europe. While less than 10 percent of the population, Muslims often end up segregated into suburban neighborhoods, where Muslim customs such as veils for women and fasting for the holy month of Ramadan become the norm, eclipsing France’s long-established Christian traditions.
Jean-Francois Cope, who is running for leadership of former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative coalition, the Union for a Popular Movement, suggested recently that French children were being prevented from snacking after school in some quarters by “thugs” posted on the sidewalk outside during Ramadan.
When observers pointed out that Ramadan has fallen during summer holidays for the past two years, Cope was widely mocked. But his followers insisted he was calling attention to a genuine problem even if the details may have been apocryphal.
The fuss over Vierzon — probably more heated in the national media than in the city itself — also came to a boil in part because, only a week before, a dozen young Muslims were arrested in Paris, Cannes and Strasbourg on charges of preparing homemade bombs for a terrorist attack. Some of those arrested were recent converts, born into families of Christian tradition but attracted by militant Islam and perhaps involved in a recent attack on a Jewish-owned business.