PARIS (Christian Examiner) – French President Francois Hollande spoke at the Arab World Institute in Paris Thursday and told the country's 5 million Muslims they need not feel unwelcome in the France or other nations of the free world. Hollande's speech comes amid scattered attacks against mosques and growing anti-Muslim sentiment in countries like Germany.
"Islam is compatible with democracy and we should refuse any confusion (about this)," Hollande at the Institute. The slogan "We are all Charlie" was written in French and Arabic on the building's façade.
The French leader, who spoke just a week after Islamic terrorists killed multiple staff members of the Charlie Hebdo publication, also said that Muslims should consider themselves "the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance," because of the takeover of their religion and Muslim-on-Muslim violence by such groups as ISIS and al-Qa'ida.
But Hollande tempered his commitment to Europe's largest Muslim population with an emphasis on the need to enforce the principles of free speech--even for the particularly offensive cartoons of Islam's Prophet Mohammad found in Charlie Hebdo.
"French of the Muslim faith have the same rights and duties as all citizens" and should be "protected and respected, as they should respect the republic," he said. "France is a friend, but it is a country that has rules, principles and values. One of them is not negotiable - freedom and democracy."
French Muslims have reported dozens of attacks on mosques since gunmen Cherif and Said Kouachi attacked Charlie Hebdo while yelling jihadist war cries. Muslim leaders in Egypt and several other Middle East nations have denounced the newspaper's decision to print more cartoons of the Mohammad in its "survivor" edition Wednesday.
The French President promised new measures to reinforce cooperation between Europe and Arab states around the Mediterranean, including letting more Arab students study in France.
Reuters contributed to this report.