France wants to cajole its radical muslim youth, offer them special high school and technical education in free housing centers with case workers constantly at their sides as Denmark is trying to do. In a country with over five million unemployed, a growing poverty rate and an income tax burden which weighs very heavily on the middle class, this is fodder for the National Front canons.
Under French law, those youth who plan to go to Syria are accomplices to Crimes against Humanity and the more than 200 estimated to have returned are guilty of Crimes against Humanity. Getting special perks for supporting or participating in ISIS horrors will raise eyebrows. French law also says apology for terrorism, that is vocally supporting violent groups and/or their actions, can get you up to seven years in prison.
Of the estimated 6000 European Muslims who have gone to join the “Holy War” in Syria, according to European Justice Minister Vera Jourova, nearly 1,500 are French. Over the past year more than 3,000 Muslims in France have been reported to the police for their Jihadist views and frighteningly, 40% of them are female. Farhad Khosrokhavar, of the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) says women make up “about 20% of the people who left Europe for Syria.”
France long disregarded its Muslim population under the pretext the state is secular. Because France does not recognize minorities, their is no ethnic census and Paris cannot even say how many Muslims there are in the country. The official number has been over five million for 25 years. Given the demographics of the immigrant and French Muslim population, it is quite possible the figure is twice as high.
Stoking the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment after the January terrorist attacks in Paris, the far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen claimed there are between 15 and 20 million Muslims in France. A figure the pro-government Nouvel Observateur called “fantasiste” based on a study where people volunteered to name their religious affiliation. The National Front can make these claims because the truth is, the authorities just don’t know.
The only place where the French have been able to truly monitor the number of extremist Muslims is in the prisons which are considered a primary breeding ground for Jihadist recruitment. While officially six percent of the French people is Muslim, they make up from 60 to 70% of the prison population. This figure has further stigmatized Muslims as a criminal class which the extreme right wing has been feeding on for years for its propaganda.
After an experiment in the Fresnes prison outside Paris, the Minister of Justice, Christiane Tubira, decided she would create five prison centers dedicated to hold radical Jihadists. The official reason can be interpreted to mean cajole them: they will be in groups of ten to fifteen “to allow an individual and adequate caring for them,” said the socialist Jean-Pierre Sueur, a member of a special Senate Committee on Radical Islam.
But they may be too late. The sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar told the French daily Le Monde that the Jihadists in prison have adopted to French surveillance by “dissimulating their faith…They have shaved their beards, not because they have renounced their Islamist credo, but to become invisible to the penitentiary authorities.”
The French government plans on hiring 60 Muslim chaplains to preach “moderate Islam.” Ouisa Kies, a sociolgist in charge of detecting radical Islamic prisoners told Le Monde that this is a good idea because although Islam is “the number one religion in prison, there are only 182 Muslim chaplains as compared to 700 Catholics.”
One pilot program (1) set up to re-educate radical muslims even uses what they call “quietist” (non-violent) Salafists as mediators which sounds to me much like when Jordan released Al Qaeda prisoners in January, hoping they would drain recruits from ISIS. After all, a Salafist believes in Sharia law and the strict application of the Koran which stipulates the death penalty for such crimes as apostasy, certainly contrary to not only the “values” of the French Republic, but to its laws above all.
To complicate matters, according to Le Monde (2), Jihadist support is no longer limited to what can be called ‘the brainless losers from the Banlieus who flunked out of school before they could read and write properly,’ or what policitally correct social workers refer to as ‘clients.’ “ It is now reaching the middle and even superior classes. It affects younger and younger adolescents (15-16 years-old), students, graduates, sometimes whole families.”
This makes it harder for the bien-pensants to explain the Islamic terror appeal to Muslim youth as merely a reaction against their social and economic marginalization. It underlines that in France there is a problem with how many Muslims relate to the country and its democracy. In different ways, they will be at the center of the 2017 election debate and especially with the old argument that they come to France to profit from its generous entitlement system.
It is clear who is being pointed at when former president Nicolas Sarkozy denounces “the assisted.” He has changed his tune from “national identity” to “the Republic” but the message is the same. “Importing the assisted (read immigrant welfare recipients) is frankly a provocation…by the civil service and by those supported by the French welfare (l’assistanat) system.” (3) This is not new. In the 2007 election campaign Sarkozy complained “today those who work earn less than those on welfare (les assistés).”
Sarkozy’s words might be carefully chosen but everybody can read his lips: les assistés importés are of course Muslims, Arabs, Africans, Immigrants. And there is no way to know for sure how heavily they weigh on the welfare system because there is no ethnic census.
While the lines are being drawn in the sand for what will be the election debate in 2017, the Muslim community is busy … doing nothing. Yet, they are best placed to fight the radicalization taking hold of their youth. If they continue to be passive, then they will only reinforce the opinion that Islam has no place in La République and the political debate will be about who can stigmatize them most to get the most votes.
1.Maison de la prévention et de la familles, set up in the Fall of 2014 by jurist and psychologist Sonia Imloul.
2. Culture & Idées, 8 April 2015.
3. Interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, 12 April 2015.