The President voiced sympathy for Swiss voters who opted last week to ban minarets as he tried to reassert himself in a debate over national identity which he launched last month but that has since spiralled out of his control.
Over the past week, Mr Sarkozy had appeared to retreat from his original comments following a backlash over the way that they were being used against immigrants, particularly Muslims.
But in a column for Le Monde, Mr Sarkozy returned to his theme and said that the result of the Swiss referendum showed how important it was for France to define its identity.
"Instead of condemning the Swiss out of hand, we should try to understand what they meant to express and what so many people in Europe feel, including people in France," he wrote. "Nothing would be worse than denial."
Mr Sarkozy called for tolerance and underlined France's respect for all faiths, but his message was intended primarily to reassure those who are unhappy about what they see as a threatening Muslim presence in the country.
"Christians, Jews, Muslims, all believers regardless of their faith, must refrain from ostentation and provocation and ... practice their religion in humble discretion," Mr Sarkozy wrote.
Addressing himself to Muslims, he wrote that anything that could appear as a challenge to France's Christian heritage and republican values would "doom to failure" a moderate Islam in France.
* France: Minarets are urban planning issue, says PM
* Germany: 'Muslims must show restraint with mosques'
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
France: Muslims must be discreet about faith
Nicolas Sarkozy stoked the debate over immigration today with a warning to Muslims to practise their religion discreetly or face rejection by moderate Islam in France.