Inside French Prisons, A Struggle To Combat Radicalization : NPR

Good long-read on the challenges of radicalization and French prisons:

Yannis Warrach, a Muslim cleric who works in his spare time at a top-security prison in Normandy, says prison is so brutal, inmates can only survive if they’re part of a gang. He has seen how the radicals recruit newcomers.

“The ones who preach and proselytize will at first be nice to a detainee. They see his desperation,” he says. “They’ll befriend him, give him what he needs. Then they’ll say it’s destiny. They’ll say that God has a mission for him. And little by little, they brainwash him, telling him French society has rejected him, he can’t get a job because of his Arab last name, and he was always put in the worst classes at school.

“The problem is,” says Warrach, “it’s often true.”

Warrach says these young men must have hope for a different future to break out of the spiral of failure. He says French leaders have failed to change the socioeconomic factors that keep many French people of Muslim descent on the bottom rungs of the ladder.

Another big problem, he says, is the prevalence of hard-line, Salafist reading material in jails — often French translations of Saudi, Wahhabist tracts that advocate literal, strict interpretation of religious doctrine.

“I work to debunk this stuff,” says Warrach. “I give inmates under pressure a historical context of the faith and another narrative of Islam.”

He says that because of the pressure from radicals, who consider him an agent of the French government, he has to meet secretly with inmates who desperately want his help. Instead of meeting in rooms designated for religious worship, which are open, they meet in special prison visiting rooms for inmates’ lawyers, where no one can observe them.

Because of its strict separation of religion and state, Warrach says France is the only country in Europe where being a prison cleric is not considered a profession. He says he only receives a small stipend, but that he can’t build a life around it — there are no retirement plans or other benefits. Because of this, there can’t be an imam at the prison every day, which creates a huge void, he says. And it leaves plenty of room for uninformed, extremist interpretations of Islam in French prisons.

Source: Inside French Prisons, A Struggle To Combat Radicalization : Parallels : NPR

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Macron Gets Serious About Stealing from U.S.—And Trolls Trump Again

Clever branding and communications:

French President Emmanuel Macron is upping his global trolling of U.S. President Donald Trump, launching a French government website this week with the url, www.makeourplanetgreatagain.fr.

Just over a week ago, moments after Donald Trump announced his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, France’s newly-elected president Emmanuel Macron offered American climate scientists refuge in France in an earnest video broadcast on social media.

Directly addressing the camera in English (a move practically unheard of in France), Macron called on American scientists and other innovators to decamp for France.

“To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States, I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland,” he said in the video.

The video created an Internet buzz, racking up hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook and tens of thousands of retweets. As of June 9, a little more than a week after it was posted, the video had been viewed 13 million times.

Peter Frumhoff, the director of science and policy at the Cambridge Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists told The Daily Beast that he thought Macron’s video message was gracious and timely.

“At a time when science and scientists are so much under threat in the United States, I thought it was an apt thing to say and I appreciated it.”

“I think many American scientists under any conditions would welcome an invitation to come work with French colleagues at European research institutions, he continued. “There is a lot of good work there and science knows no boundaries.”

However, Fromhoff also said he didn’t know of anyone in the scientific community who took Macron’s statement to heart.

“I don’t know that his speech was intended to be followed through with any particular funding specifics or research collaboration support, and obviously that would be relevant to where people go to do their work. I didn’t see any details about that.”

“Obviously, most people just can’t pick up and leave,” he added.

He is right. Relocating to France is easier said than done, and would-be American expats (I was one of them) typically face mountains of paperwork and red tape with often-contradictory and baffling requirements. However, on June 8, a week after the video aired, the Elysée Palace launched a new website in English aimed at foreign scientists, entrepreneurs, and others who are interested in working in France, suggesting that Macron’s invitation may have been more than a symbolic, goodwill gesture. And in naming the initiative Make Our Planet Great Again, a nervy take on Trump’s campaign slogan, the French president also appears to be taking a swipe at Trump and his globally unpopular stance on climate change.

The site opens with the same June 2 video message from Macron. Users are then directed to another page, where they can select a profession—researcher, teacher, entrepreneur, NGO, student, or other—and their country of origin, followed by a brief series of questions regarding their interest in climate change. The site then promises interested parties that they will be contacted with more information within three working days. The site also offers information on grant applications for researchers—a senior-level researcher, for instance, is eligible for a €1.5 million four-year grant.

According to the French daily Le Monde,the site functions as much as a presidential promotion tactic as it does a recruitment tool, calling Macron’s efforts a “media counter-offensive,” and noting that several questions remained unanswered.

Source: Macron Gets Serious About Stealing from U.S.—And Trolls Trump Again

France and Britain should stop the blame game over integration: Yakabuski

In other words, praise for the Canadian model of civic integration, based on reasonably coherent immigration, settlement, citizenship and multiculturalism policies and programs:

The truth is that neither the French nor British model of integration has been a success. But neither model in itself is to blame for the radicalization of young Muslim men, and some women, that has occurred within each country’s borders. Ethnic minorities face systemic racism in both France and Britain. These young men often become radicalized not because they are Muslims, then, but in reaction to the racism of which they, their friends and their families are victims. I’m not suggesting this is universally the case. There are radical imams in both countries who actively seek out vulnerable young minds to warp.

British writer Kenan Malik, the author of Multiculturalism and Its Discontents, argued in The Guardian in the wake of the November, 2015, terrorist attack in Paris that killed 130 that an ideal integration policy would “marry the beneficial aspects of [the French and British] approaches – celebrating diversity while treating everyone as citizens, rather than as simply belonging to particular communities. In practice, though, Britain and France have both institutionalized the more damaging features – Britain placing minorities into ethnic and cultural boxes, France attempting to create a common identity by treating those of North African origin as the Other.”

France and Britain have both experienced repeated attacks since, with each country focusing far more in the aftermath on strengthening security measures and identifying potential terrorists than on addressing the alienation of young minorities in their midst. Instead of criticizing the other’s model of integration, France and Britain would each be better off fixing the flaws in their own.

Source: France and Britain should stop the blame game over integration – The Globe and Mail

Should France Have Its Own Version of Islam? – The Atlantic

Interesting in depth interview – worth reading:

With France’s first round of voting complete, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is among the final two contenders for the presidency, along with centrist Emmanuel Macron. Given how often Le Pen invoked the specter of Islamic fundamentalism throughout her campaign, one might expect French Muslims to be worried about the potential for her to win the May 7 runoff.

But Tareq Oubrou, the popular imam of Bordeaux’s Grand Mosque and a prominent theologian, told me he is not concerned. Nor does he blame those elements in French society that harbor fears of Islam. The morning after the results were announced, he spoke about “legitimate fears” among the French, and seemed to put the burden on Muslims to make Islam more compatible with France and its strong flavor of state secularism, known as laïcité.

Oubrou, who was born in Morocco, is a leading advocate of progressive Islam. Beloved among France’s political elite, he preaches in French as well as in Arabic, critiques the veil or headscarf, insists that Islam is compatible with French ideals at the deepest level, and shrugs off the death threats he gets from radicals.

“It’s religion’s job to institute reform and to respect the laws of the republic,” Oubrou told me, before going on to explain how he and other imams are working to create a new French Islam. This reformed religion, complete with what he calls a “preventive theology,” is meant to be, if not terrorist-proof, at least resistant to being coopted by fundamentalists. Our conversation, which I translated from the French, has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Samuel: In your opinion, what should France’s Muslim leaders be doing to fight radicalization?
Oubrou: We need to pay attention to the training of imams. The terrorist acts have been a shock for imams, and they are starting to take this very seriously. There’s already an intense crisis of conscience: We can’t let our children keep getting seduced online and elsewhere, we have to make an effort to prevent radicalization. Many imams are trying to better explain the Islamic texts that the terrorists use to recruit youth. They’re mobilizing to respond to these interpretations. There’s a theological response underway.
Samuel: Do you think most French people know that imams are fighting this way?
Oubrou: They have no idea. Because there’s no information. Mass media only covers things that aren’t working. And we all know how politicians exploit and aggravate problems so they can propose the solution.Samuel: How are you personally working to make Islam more compatible with the secular values of France?

Oubrou: I myself am working on [an intellectual framework that I call] “the sharia of the minority”—how to adapt Islam, theologically speaking. Muslim theology in France must do the work of acculturating Islam, adapting it to French culture. It’s possible to simplify Islam and preserve what’s important to the Muslim tradition and respect French law and culture. There are a number of Muslims working on a theology of adaptation, to adapt Islam to the West in general and to France in particular.

I am also working on a “preventive theology”—how to elaborate a religious discourse that won’t lend itself to terrorism or fundamentalism.

Samuel: Would it be fair to call your project a reformation?

Oubrou: Yes, it’s a reformation. But it’s always been like this: Every time Islam found itself in a new historical context, it adapted. All religions adapt. Why not Islam?

We need to take into consideration how long it takes to integrate, though. It doesn’t happen in an instant. Islam is a religion that has only relatively recently established itself in France. Simply adapting the theology won’t make people adapt—you need time, too.

Source: Should France Have Its Own Version of Islam? – The Atlantic

Marine Le Pen: France ‘not responsible’ for deporting Jews during Holocaust – The Washington Post

Sigh … hope French voters react:

The Velodrome d’Hiver is an eternal stain on French history.

After dark on July 16, 1942, French police rounded up about 13,000 Jews from across occupied Paris and deposited them in the “Vel d’Hiv,” a famous indoor stadium that had hosted the 1924 Summer Olympics and where the likes of Ernest Hemingway would come to enjoy the races. From the stadium, not far from the Eiffel Tower, the vast majority of these interned Jews in 1942 were deported to Auschwitz. Most would never return from that World War II Nazi concentration camp.

The reason the Vel d’Hiv lingers in France’s national memory is that the roundup was carried out by French police — not by the German occupiers.

In a republic devoted to the lofty ideals of equality and universal citizenship — and that had legally emancipated its Jews long before any of its European neighbors — the Vel d’Hiv roundup exposed the deadly hypocrisy of collaboration with the Nazi regime. In 1995, speaking at the site of the stadium, then-President Jacques Chirac put it this way: “France, the homeland of the Enlightenment and of the rights of man, a land of welcome and asylum — France, on that day, committed the irreparable. Breaking its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.”

Now enter Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, who is making a run for the presidency in the April 23 election.

“I don’t think that France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” she declared Sunday on French television. “I think that in general, more generally, if there were those responsible, it was those who were in power at the time. This is not France.”

In remarks that elicited outrage across the French media, Le Pen went further: “France has been mired in people’s minds for years. In reality, our children are taught that they have every reason to criticize her, to see only the darkest historical aspects.”

“I want them to be proud to be French again.”

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is among the top contenders in France’s presidential campaign. Here’s what you need to know about her.(Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Israel condemned Le Pen’s remarks, saying they reflect rising anti-Semitism that, “unfortunately, is once again raising its head.”

Defusing The Lure Of Militant Islam In France, Despite Death Threats : NPR

One approach:

One of Bouzar’s methods for treating young people seduced by ISIS involves re-establishing links between radicalized individuals and their former lives. She counsels parents to try to bring them back in touch with their childhood — through old pictures and videos or food.

Celine tried this with her son and had little success at first, but she persevered.

“I made all his favorite meals that he loved as a child,” she says. “And I took him to places he liked when he was young. I did everything to reconnect him with his childhood.” Eventually, she noticed he was becoming more open to discussion. He took an interest in school again. The empty look vanished from his eyes.

Bouzar says a person can only be brought back with the help of someone close, like a parent or other family member — or by a reformed jihadist himself.

She has used allegedly reformed jihadists in counseling sessions to try to break through to some of the young people who are radicalizing. “We get them together without the young person realizing who this person is,” says Bouzar. “But then they begin to recognize their own story out of the mouth of the reformed jihadist, because he was lured for some of the same reasons. And slowly, doubt begins to set in.”

Bouzar says there is no such thing as a radicalized youth who wants to be de-radicalized. “He thinks he’s been picked by God and he sees things no one else does, because [everybody else is] indoctrinated,” she says.

Bouzar’s methods have been controversial. Some say her use of allegedly reformed jihadists is dangerous. (In some cases, it can be challenging to ascertain whether they’ve really reformed or are pretending.) Others accuse her of self-promotion. Many more say treating radicalization as purely brainwashing is to underestimate geopolitical and social factors, and the role that radical Islam plays.

Benjamin Erbibou, who works with an organization called Entr’Autres(Among Others), a group that works with radicalization issues in the southern city of Nice, thinks only a small percentage of radicalization cases are linked to brainwashing.

“Mostly,” he says, “it’s linked to a complete rupture and rejection of French society and Western values.”

But Marik Fetouh, deputy mayor of Bordeaux and head of the city’s de-radicalization center, says it’s easy to criticize efforts to deal with radicalization because it’s a poorly understood new phenomenon.

“Bouzar came forward with real ideas to fight this complex phenomenon when pretty much no one else had a clue what to do,” he says.

Although her contract with the French government is over, Bouzar’s association still counsels families affected by radicalization. Bouzar and her teams have counseled more than 1,000 young people and their parents — from Muslim, Catholic and atheist backgrounds.

Source: Defusing The Lure Of Militant Islam In France, Despite Death Threats : Parallels : NPR

‘We won’t back down’: Young right-wing activists agitate across Europe for an idealized past – Canada – CBC News

Interesting profile of the white supremacist movement and key players in France, similar to the likes of Robert Spencer and the like in USA:

They are traditionalists with a YouTube channel, nostalgic nationalists who text and tweet.

Young, white and European, they call themselves Identitarians, right-wing activists agitating across the continent against immigration and Islam and for a future rooted deep in an idealized past.

“I’m a product of my time,” says Pierre Larti, a spokesman for Génération identitaire (GI), the French branch of the movement. “But I know the difference between what is good in this era and what isn’t.”

Larti is buff, squeaky clean and, at 27, already part of the old guard of the movement.

Issy stickering

Génération identitaire uses of range of strategies to get its message across, from Greenpeace-style shock tactics to postering and stickering in like-minded neighbourhoods. (Michelle Gagnon/CBC)

After a long day and a meeting that ran late — Larti works in HR at a yogurt factory — he travelled more than 50 kilometres to lead a low-tech, late-night postering and stickering campaign in Issy-les-Moulineaux, a suburb just outside Paris.

“I’ve lived in this multiethnic society and seen its ravages, the dangers it poses for us, for the French. We’ve become passive, too accepting,” Larti says.

“We accept the veil in the public square. We accept burkas. Little by little, we accept everything. We accept that France now has more than 2,500 mosques.

“We accept one or two attacks a year,” he pauses and then asserts: “I cannot accept that.”

Source: ‘We won’t back down’: Young right-wing activists agitate across Europe for an idealized past – Canada – CBC News

Patrick Weil : « Qu’on laisse en paix les femmes voilées » | L’Opinion

As always, sensible and nuanced commentary by Weil:

Patrick Weil, historien et politologue, est directeur de recherche au CNRS et au centre d’histoire sociale du XX e siècle à Paris I. Considéré comme l’un des meilleurs spécialistes des questions de laïcité et d’immigration en France, il a participé aux travaux de la commission Stasi qui rendit en 2003 un rapport sur l’application du principe de laïcité. Il est notamment l’auteur de Qu’est-ce qu’un Français ? Histoire de la nationalité française depuis la Révolution, Gallimard.

Est-il vrai que le port du voile islamique explose en France ?

Non. La religiosité se développe. Le voile se présente sur de nouveaux territoires car des femmes le portent et frappent aux portes des entreprises et de tous les métiers qualifiés, mais il ne se développe pas et il n’explose pas. Son port peut d’ailleurs avoir des sens différents. Il peut être porté sous la pression des pairs ou de certains membres de la famille. La personne qui le porte parfois le fait pour ne pas être harcelée dans son propre milieu tout en étant très libre dans sa tête et ses amitiés. En gros, je mets le voile et je ne me fais pas em… par la famille. Parfois elle le porte en toute bonne foi, par tradition familiale ou au contraire en réaction à un milieu non croyant ou non pratiquant.

Et après tout, cela ne nous regarde pas, comme ne nous regardent pas les opinions et les pratiques religieuses d’aucun de nos concitoyens. Violent-elles la loi en portant un voile ? non. Alors, qu’on les laisse en paix. Tant que nos compatriotes musulmans n’auront pas droit à l’indifférence qui passe d’abord par le silence des politiques, alors on ne fera que renforcer – par solidarité, fierté ou sentiment de discrimination – les comportements que l’on veut réduire.

Que le ministre de l’Intérieur s’attaque aux violations de notre laïcité qui sont les plus sérieuses sans être les plus visibles : les pressions sur les mineures par exemple. Ou encore le phénomène qui se développe, si l’on en croit certaines études, de mariages religieux soit avant le mariage civil soit sans mariage civil. La loi ne permet aujourd’hui de punir les officiants mais pas ceux qui se marient. Si demain la loi pénalisait ceux qui se marient religieusement avant de se marier civilement, cela ne serait pas choquant du tout. Le mariage civil à la mairie, célébré devant la communauté des citoyens, avant l’éventuel mariage religieux, c’est au fondement de la laïcité, depuis 1792.

Est-il pertinent d’ouvrir un débat sur le port du voile à l’université ?

Pour la commission Stasi, il n’était pas question d’interdire les signes religieux dans les Universités – comme cela vient d’être proposé – ou ailleurs dans le monde des adultes : les adultes ont des moyens pour se défendre que les enfants n’ont pas. Ils peuvent aller en justice et protéger leur liberté de conscience plus facilement.

Il faut le rappeler : la plus importante de nos lois, la loi de 1905, assure la liberté de conscience, sépare l’Etat et les Eglises, mais elle n’est pas une loi antireligieuse. Elle laisse sa place à la religion, à toutes les religions et à toutes les options spirituelles. C’est une loi négociée entre les socialistes de l’époque et l’Eglise catholique de France. Elle a ensuite été – temporairement – rejetée par le Vatican, avant que l’Eglise ne l’accepte et ne finisse par en faire tous les éloges. Sous ce régime de laïcité, la neutralité envers les croyances religieuses n’est imposée qu’à l’État et ses serviteurs, au sein de la sphère politique et depuis 2004, aux élèves des écoles publiques. Elle n’est pas imposée dans d’autres sphères publiques.

Source: Patrick Weil : « Qu’on laisse en paix les femmes voilées » | L’Opinion

And for background on the French government’s position:

The French government has defended municipal bans on body-covering Muslim ‘burkini’ swimwear but called on mayors to try and cool tensions between communities.

Three Mediterranean towns — Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet and Sisco on the island of Corsica — have banned the burkini, and Le Touquet on the Atlantic coast is planning to do the same.

The mainly conservative mayors who have imposed the ban say the garment, which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, defies French laws on secularism.

The socialist government’s minister for women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, supported the bans.

 “The burkini is not some new line of swimwear, it is the beach version of the burqa and it has the same logic: hide women’s bodies in order to better control them,” Rossignol told French daily Le Parisien in an interview.

France, which has the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated at 5 million, in 2010 introduced a ban on full-face niqab and burqa veils in public.

Rossignol said the burkini had sparked tensions on French beaches because of its political dimension.

“It is not just the business of those women who wear it, because it is the symbol of a political project that is hostile to diversity and women’s emancipation,” she said.

‘It is not just the business of those women who wear it’: France defends growing number of ‘burkini’ bans

France Has Shut Down 20 Mosques Since December Over Alleged Radical Islam Sermons – The Atlantic

While I understand the rationale to shut-down such places of hate, one can question whether shutting them down will simply drive them underground, where their activities may be harder to detect and contest:

“Fight against the #radicalization: since December 2015, twenty Muslim places of worship have been closed,” the Interior Ministry tweeted.

Of the country’s 2,500 mosques and prayer halls, approximately 120 of them have been suspected by French authorities of preaching radical Salafism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam, according to France 24.

“There is no place … in France for those who call for and incite hatred in prayer halls or in mosques … About 20 mosques have been closed, and there will be others,” Cazeneuve said.

The announcement came days after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called for a temporary ban on foreign funding of French mosques. A Senate committee report on Islam in France published in July found that though the country’s mosques are primarily financed through individual donations, a significant portion of their funding also comes from overseas—specifically from Morocco, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia. The same report called banning foreign financing of mosques “absurd and impossible,” calling instead for more transparency.

Because of France’s 1905 law establishing the separation of church and state, or laïcité, the French government cannot finance religious institutions directly. Some experts say this rule has made many mosques reliant on foreign funding.

Cazeneuve also announced Monday that French authorities would be working with the French Muslim Council to launch a foundation to help finance mosques within France.

Source: France Has Shut Down 20 Mosques Since December Over Alleged Radical Islam Sermons – The Atlantic

France wants to feel safe – whatever it takes. But what if it takes too much? Dominique Moisi

Another good piece on the limits of what can and should be done:

There is plenty that can and must be done to strengthen security in France and elsewhere. But the ultimatum that some French are now implicitly presenting – guarantee absolute security, or watch us cast aside the rule of law and basic principles of openness and equality – does more harm than good.

The French, like all people, deserve to feel safe whether they’re going to church, enjoying a concert or celebrating a holiday. The question is how to restore that sense of security at a time when the risk of a terrorist attack cannot be fully eliminated.

The answer lies with civil society. Citizens should become more alert to the signs of radicalization, and more educated on how to respond. People should be encouraged to report the possible radicalization of those close to them to relevant authorities, whether mental-health professionals or the police. The goal is not to have people making unsubstantiated accusations against neighbours and friends; it is to create channels through which people who recognize radical or violent leanings in someone they know can report their concerns.

This model has worked for Israel. Despite regular exposure to terrorist attacks, Israelis retain a sense of relative security, owing partly to the ability of civil society to contribute to their own safety. As a result, citizens are willing to respect what Max Weber called the state’s “monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.”

France is not on the verge of collapsing into chaos, with vigilantes attempting to take on the terrorists. But the relentless fear-mongering of populists, together with genuinely terrifying, tragic, and infuriating experiences, is undermining people’s better judgment, causing them to fall prey to inflammatory rhetoric. With a presidential election next year, there is strong incentive for self-serving politicians to use the victims of Nice as instruments of campaign strategy.

This cannot be allowed to happen. If the French ultimately succumb to fear and elect populist bigots, the struggling Islamic State will have scored a victory. Make no mistake: the Islamic State is losing. Its territories in Syria and Iraq are dwindling, but it has a last-ditch strategy to prop itself up: rapid recruitment. And that would receive a major boost from intensification of anti-Muslim rhetoric or, worse, the election of those who would turn rhetoric into policy.

Islamic State recruiters are achieving success; from Orlando to Istanbul to Dhaka, it has found plenty of supporters who are eager to kill in its name. But as long as the West remains united and principled, IS cannot emerge victorious.

For France and others, the key is collective action, at home and abroad, which will require improved links between internal and external security agencies, together with greater risk awareness within civil society, along Israeli lines. Add that to continued strikes against IS sanctuaries, and its dream of an Islamic caliphate will soon be dead.

Regaining control over our lives and our destinies means being realistic. Instead of demanding a return to a time before terrorism, we must become more alert to the risks it poses – not only to our safety, but also to our values and commitment to the rule of law – and do our part to minimize them.

Source: France wants to feel safe – whatever it takes. But what if it takes too much? – The Globe and Mail