17 Oct 2013

Opening of Muslim prayer room in Tahiti causes uproar

6:13 pm on 17 October 2013

The opening of the first Muslim prayer room in French Polynesia has caused an uproar, with a political party questioning whether the new imam was allowed to that.

The Tahiti mosque's launch by a 23-year-old Moroccan-born imam from France has prompted online reactions which overwhelmed a news website.

It shut down the comment section because it no longer managed to vet apparently offensive contributions.

"The publisher of the Tahiti Pacifique monthly, Alex du Prel, explains."

ALEX DU PREL: Everybody is up in arms over here, especially since quite a bit of the French population, the metropolitan French population in Tahiti are people who moved to Tahiti in the 1960s coming from Algeria, where they had been chased out. It was quite funny to see in Tahiti, in Papeete, an imam who was white-coloured and a long beard. Anyhow, he's been the big news, and I'm sure when he goes back to France he's going to be the big hero in his Muslim neighbourhood.

WALTER ZWEIFEL: Now, the opposition at the A Tia Porinetia party says this could open up French Polynesia to extremism. Is there any political gain for a political party to come out with a statement so quickly, despite nothing having happened so far?

ADP: It's only trying to come out faster than Flosse. What we have is that little political party, number three on the list. So they've over-reacted and they put on their communique all these fears that the population has gotten because most of the media in France and the world have been very negative on anything that has to do with the Muslim insurrection and the different terror and 911 in the States and so on. They're focusing on that. But a historical note, the only reason French Polynesia is French is because in 1841 two French Catholic priests arrived in Tahiti. And the British Council, that was Protestant, told the Queen to throw them out, don't accept them. And this was the excuse why Admiral Dupetit-Thouars annexed Tahiti. So we're in a situation now where we have the French here and we have an Arab Muslim arriving and going up. So nobody wants to throw him out, because otherwise we might have a ship coming from Saudi Arabia to take over the country.

WZ: A Tia Porinetia asked if this man has got clearance from the city, from the territorial government and from the French state to set up a mosque. Is there a requirement in law that he would have to do that?

ADP: No. The French constitution says that he has the total freedom of religion and also there's the total freedom to create an association - could be French or he may have an association of the people who love French wine and stuff like that. So you make an association like that, it's absolutely free. And the guy resisted it, and so on. And there's nothing that the French state can do, you know? It's in the constitution.

The publisher of the Tahiti Pacifique monthly, Alex du Prel speaking to Walter Zweifel. The mosque has since been forced to close for safety reasons.