Middle East Forum – .

Middle East Forum – .

Sam Westrop, project director for Islamist Watch at the Middle East Forum, interviewed Martha Lee, researcher at Islamist Watch, during a Middle East Forum webinar on August 6 (video) regarding the French government’s response to Islamism in the aftermath of the deadly jihadist terrorist attacks.

Shocked by the 264 deaths of Islamist terrorism since 2015, France has embarked on a much broader response to the threat than any other Western country. While successive US administrations have viewed jihadist violence as a matter of policing, while ignoring or even accommodating legal Islamist groups, French President Emmanuel Macron and most of the French political establishment understand “that Islamist terrorism cannot be entirely separated from legal Islamism ”.

Westrop distinguished between Islamism, “A 20e the political ideology of the century which seeks to impose a theocratic ideal on the world ”; and Islam,“ an extremely diverse religion… which includes a variety of sects and movements ”. directly advocate violence; but… teach a similar theocratic worldview from which violence can emerge and emerge. They control charities, mosques, schools, community centers, activism and advocacy organizations, seminars, PACs, among others. “

Unlike most other Western leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron views legal Islamism as a threat to his nation.

The French government has taken a number of measures to combat legal Islamism, the most notable being the anti-separatism bill passed by the French National Assembly in July 2021. Although the bill does not specifically mention the Islam or Muslims, its provisions were clearly drafted with concerns about Islamism in mind.

The bill includes two key funding provisions: religious organizations receiving foreign funding – as do many mosques in France – are required to publicly declare donations over 10,000 euros. In addition, organizations that receive public funds must now “sign a contract pledging to uphold the values ​​of the Republic and refrain from any action that would threaten public order,” Lee said, and risk confiscation. funds if they violate these conditions.

This latter provision is not in itself strong enough to uphold the law, Westrop noted, as Islamist organizations have often pretended to support the “rules and ideals of the Republic” while “continuing[ing] to promote extremism… behind closed doors. However, Lee noted that such deception is more likely to be exposed when the public is highly aware of Islamist threats. as to receiving funds under false pretenses, although she acknowledged that large offenders are more likely to be exposed than small organizations.

Another provision of the law is designed to make it difficult for extremists to join the board of directors of a mosque or change mosque regulations unless there is “permission from an organ. deliberating ”. The bill also allows authorities to close places of worship for up to two months if they are found to encourage hatred, discrimination or violence.

Macron has also taken steps to end a system where foreign countries send imams to France to serve the Muslim community there, although Lee warned that the installation of French-born imams in place of foreign imams do not guarantee that they will not be sensitive to local issues. Islamist influences. “The Muslim organization which is supposed to be responsible for training these imams” does not “seem very trustworthy,” she added.

While Lee said there was little fear of Islamism spreading in the secular French education system (religious symbols, like the hijab, are not allowed in public schools), many Muslim parents are getting around this. secular environment by sending their children to private schools or choosing to homeschool them (which usually means enrolling them in some form of clandestine religious instruction). The French government has instituted “stricter requirements” for private schools and has tightened the approval process for parents who wish to homeschool. In French higher education, as in America, Lee sees the main problem as “academics who deny Islamism” as an ideological force.

As most of the terrorist attacks in France over the past year have been committed by foreign nationals, the issue of immigration has also been brought to the fore. Another new law stipulates that asylum seekers will be refused asylum if they are found to have praised or encouraged terrorism. France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, which has raised concerns that the continued immigration of Muslims will exceed the country’s ability to “integrate them properly” and “lead to unrest”.

Lee was skeptical that France’s efforts to legally restrain Islamism will be emulated by other European countries because France has a “very special relationship with secularism … [an] understand that public space should be protected in some way from religion.

President Emmanuel Macron’s anti-Islamist initiatives have been denounced in the Islamic world.

Islamists and the progressive left have strongly condemned the French anti-Islamist campaign, both at home and abroad. Islamist and non-Islamist critics frequently twist Macron’s words, Lee said. If Macron was particularly careful to distinguish Islamism and Islam in his speeches, his foreign detractors often misinterpret his words to give the impression that the government “is attacking Muslims, in general, rather than Islamism” , and that “all French Muslims are threatened by these laws. The anti-Islamist campaign is presented as a “direct continuation of French colonial laws” and proof of “French hatred of Islam”.

In conclusion, Lee said that “Islamism … requires[s] a firm response. While it is too early to say how effective the anti-separatism bill will be in reducing Islamism, she believes that targeting funding to Islamist groups holds great promise.

Marilyn Stern is the communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.

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