As terrorism trial unfolds in Paris, France confronts its problem with Islamist extremism

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“It’s our separatism. “Separatism – a word that carries weight in many countries, especially in Canada.

Here, the speaker was French, in fact it was French President Emmanuel Macron.

The separatism he spoke of, in a major and long-delayed speech on October 2, was Islamist separatism in France, an effort by the country’s Muslim extremists to capitalize on the alienation of many young Muslims to create a regiment of jihad fighters, or holy war against France, the West and the Jews.

The result has been a series of deadly attacks over the past decade in France, as well as the presence of French Muslims fighting in extreme groups in the Middle East.

Macron’s timing was no accident.

Police officers stand by a knife, seen on the ground, in Paris on September 25, 2020. French terrorism authorities investigated a knife attack that injured at least two people near the former offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, said authorities. (Soufian Fezzani via AP)

His speech took place during the first major terrorism trial in Paris after the attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery store in January 2015, the coordinated murders in the cafes and the Bataclan theater in November 2015, and finally the assault trucks. in Nice on July 14, 2016.

The combined death toll was over 230.

Most of the attackers were born in France, but all saw themselves as fighters of the Islamist jihad.

The trial is so important, which is expected to last several more weeks, that judicial authorities have allowed video cameras to record it.

Macron considered the speech so important that he delivered it amid the COVID-19 crisis, which is consuming the country’s attention.

A glass box is seen in a courtroom where the trial for the murderous attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in 2015 is taking place in Paris. (Michel Euler / The Associated Press)

The diagnosis of the French president was brutal.

“We ourselves have built our own separatism,” he said, creating ghettos in the suburbs of big cities, especially in Paris.

In these ghettos live most of the Muslims of France. Their number is estimated at around 5,750,000, or around 8.5% of the French population.

This number from Pew Research in 2017 is approximate because French law states that the census cannot ask about the religion of a resident of the country.

‘A concentrate of misery and difficulties’

For many Muslims in France, the future looks like a locked door.

Or, as Macron said, “we have built a concentration of misery and difficulties, we have concentrated populations according to origin and social background. We have created neighborhoods where the promise of the republic has never been kept and where these most radical forms. [of Islamism] have become sources of hope. ”

It also created fertile ground for trained imams in the Middle East and North Africa to radicalize young men.

Issa, who asked for confidentiality for fear of reprisals, is a young man I spoke to from a poor Parisian suburb, largely populated by families of North African and African origin.

“Freedom, equality, fraternity – these words have no value here,” he said. “They are only of value in the center of Paris. Freedom – you go out and the police arrest you five or six times a day. Equality – when you try to find work you don’t have the same chances as someone in a wealthy part of Paris. Fraternity – everyone is afraid of the other, the foreigner – the Black or the Maghreb. ”

A man wearing a protective mask as a precaution against the coronavirus looks at a painting by French street artist Christian Guemy, alias C215, in tribute to members of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo attacked in January 2015 (Michel Euler / The Associated Press)

Other factors also contribute to a feeling of alienation.

In the Seine Saint-Denis suburb just north of the central district of Paris, which has a population largely of Maghrebian origin, the unemployment rate at the end of 2019 was 27%. The national rate was less than 9%.

“Finding a job, no, just walking in the door, it’s much more difficult if your name is Mohammed,” a young man who graduated from college once told me.

Several studies over the past three years, notably by sociologist Marie-Anne Valfort, support this, concluding that it is at least 50% more difficult for young Muslims to get job interviews than for non-Muslims. .

‘All the time, every day’

Muslims are often the target of open racism on the part of the police. The most recent charge came from a police whistleblower, Brig. Amar Benmohammed. In July 2020, he detailed hundreds of incidents of racist language over two years in police cells at the main courthouse in Paris.

“Racist language is all the time, every day,” said a police officer speaking about his colleagues on the French national radio station, France Info this summer.

“They call them bastards, rats, members of dirty races,” said another policeman, of North African origin, working in the Paris region. Racist remarks, police believe, reflect a poisoned state of mind prevalent in the police.

“French Muslims are fed up with the hateful and racist remarks emanating from individuals and groups across the country,” said Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the Union of French Mosques.

This is the troubling context of the Paris trial.

Thousands of people gathered at Place de la République in Paris on January 11, 2015, eight days after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. (Peter Dejong / The Associated Press)

Ten of the 11 defendants accused of helping the three killers prepare for the attacks were in prison – for drug trafficking, assault, even kidnapping and murder. It was in prison that many met the killers – the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly – or their friends.

The three killers had been supervised by extremist Islamists in a mosque in the north of Paris. Two had been arrested and jailed for terrorist offenses, including attempting to join jihad in Iraq. There, among other Muslims, they preached the virtues of religious warfare, police said.

In French prisons, Muslims form a disproportionate minority. Using the imperfect measure of Ramadan meal requests, the French justice ministry calculated in 2017 that Muslims made up 26% of the country’s prison population.

Once back in the suburbs of the ghetto, the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo murders were able to easily outsmart the French security services.

Got guns without the police knowing

A police investigator, Chief Inspector Nicolas Guidoux, said during the trial that one of the attack leaders, Chérif Kouachi, “had simply played with the security and intelligence services”.

Proof of this is that the attackers were able to obtain weapons, detonators, bulletproof vests, a large car and several safe houses – all without the knowledge of the police.

One of the defendants, Willy Prevost, is not a Muslim but incurred a huge drug debt with one of the killers. He was told to get Tasers and bulletproof vests.

“You don’t go to the police in the suburbs. If you do, thugs will attack your family, ”he said.

Three of the main defendants are not even in court. They escaped to Syria at the time of the attacks. Two are believed to have died, but the wife of one of the killers was reportedly seen alive there. French anti-terrorist police took the sighting seriously enough to initiate a criminal investigation.

Faced with this, the remedy Macron suggested seems slim.

He said France would stop allowing foreign imams to come and indoctrinate French Muslims and that a new law would ban home education. All children will have to attend public schools and learn about the ideals and principles of the French Republic. (For now, authorities estimate that a disturbing minority of Muslim children attend secret Islamist schools.)

It will certainly not be enough. France’s interior minister said at the start of the trial that the police had, on average, put an end to one terrorist plot per month over the past three years.

One of them did not break took place outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo two weeks after the opening of the trial. A man wielding a large knife seriously injured two people.

France’s problems with Islamist extremism are far from resolved.

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