Imams who tell young children they will turn into pigs and go to Hell if they listen to music; public bus drivers who refuse to drive a vehicle after a woman had driven it; airport baggage handlers who want to stop work several times a day to pray; project thugs who aggress girls not wearing a headscarf; men with several undeclared wives collecting generous family allotments for the children: just a few of the manifestations of Islamic fundamentalism those on both the left and the right claim is sweeping France.
Are hardline islamists, known as Salafists, promoting the recruitment of young French Muslims for terrorism through their preaching? The question is important because the debate in France this week could lead to the banning of a form of religious thought. Although “not all Salafists are Jihadists, all Jihadists are culturally Salafists,” said the French researcher on Islam, Gilles Kepel.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Monday: “The Salafists in France are a minority who are winning the ideological and cultural battle” of Islam in France. If a popular effort to fight them is not begun soon he warned, “an authoritarian response will be imposed.” A clear allusion to banning them.
Valls now sees the source of the evil in the failure of the French Republic to instill its values on Muslim youth. We have come a long way from when, after the November 13 attacks, Valls refused all sociological studies on life in the projects, or ‘banlieues’, which seek to decipher why the youth would turn to Islamic extremism. At the time of the November massacre Valls said “trying to explain these acts is already excusing them.”
My Name is Legion, for We art Many
On Monday, the Prime Minister downplayed Salafist numbers, affirming they represent only “one percent of the Muslims in our country but their message, and their messages on the social media, are the only ones being heard and being heard by the youngest.”
There are an estimated 100 Salafist mosques in France with some 20,000 followers, according to intelligence sources. The Salafists claim they are simply for the strict observance of the Qaran and are not violent. Valls, who feels their thought influences French Muslim youth to attack compatriots, is determined to fight these people who reject secularism and what the French call “Republican Values.”
The Prime Minister did not say what percentage of the youth he thinks support fundamentalist Salafism in the country. But an estimated 2,000 French nationals have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight Jihad.
Valls dates the “surrender” of France to an incident in Creil in 1989 in which three girls were sent home from school for refusing to take off their headscarf. He regrets the government at the time caved in to the headscarf by simply asking that the face not be covered. He also deplored an attitude of ‘inter-cultural tolerance’ that “accepts these differences which force the Republic to retreat.”
Manuel Valls was one of only 20 leftist Members of Parliament to vote in favor of the 2010 law which forbids the wearing in public of a burka or any veil which covers the face. But, for the Socialist government leader, this law does not go far enough. The headscarf has now become a battle line.
The Prime Minister once again came to the defense of his Minister for Family and Women’s Affairs, Laurence Rossignol, who last week denounced Haute Couture houses that cater to ‘Islamic fashion’ saying “the veil is not a fashion craze, but rather the subjugation of women.”
Many on the left are critical of attacking the veil or trying to explain Islam to Muslims as a tactic to defeat radical thought from taking hold of youth in the banlieues
For French socialist, economist and author, Jacques Attali, you “don’t kill an ideology by banning it.” He told BFM TV News Tuesday “the problem is one of education. A child must master the French language. A child who comes to school with a 500 word vocabulary cannot be integrated.” Attali also proposed the creation of a National Guard of 100,000 people in France as a means of reducing unemployment and integrating Muslim youth.
The Cost of War
The war Valls plans on leading is costly. “The terrorist threat obliges us to invest massively in justice and defense for years to come,” Valls said Monday. The military has already asked for an extra five billion euros for 2017 – 2019. Add to this the police and cyber-spies being hired and equipped and the cost continues to mount. The increased budget is unsustainable for a country which is basically bankrupt (debt is nearly 100% of GDP) and Paris has not met any of the Euro criteria for years despite demands from Brussels to trim 40 billion off of spending.
Valls, still ready to play hardball, warned repression is not enough to win the campaign. Minds must be won over, he insisted. “The debate cannot be only between Islam and French society, but must be within Islam itself,” he said. For the moment, French Muslims are not having this public debate and their silence is seen by many as complicity. This in turn is leading to the growth of extreme right wing populist parties around Europe, such as the National Front in France.
Jacques Attali does not believe in a clash of cultures. He says Islamic fundamentalism can only be beaten through education, job training and employment. “No youth should leave school without some kind of professional qualification,” Attali insists. For the former advisor to President François Mitterand, “equality comes through mastering the French language.”
The socialist ideologue says the war on Salafism is a “false debate. Tomorrow morning we will write an article saying Salafism is responsible for unemployment,” he told BFM TV News. “That would be as absurd as saying Salafism is responsible for nothing at all.”
Valls, on the other hand, believes more has to be done to promote France’s republican secularism among its Muslim youth to fight Salafism which he affirms “can lead to radical Islamism and terrorism.” But France’s secularism was aimed at a whole different religious phenomenon and may not be the right answer to the Salafist challenge.
“The French are today trying to bring Muslims into the national community by invoking rules which were established to evict Catholics from political life” over a hundred years ago, says the American reporter and author, Christopher Caldwell, whose book on how Islam has changed France and Europe came out in French this week. Caldwell says the French have the wrong approach to integrating Islam. He says that, although the populists may not have come up with a “logical perception to their explanation of Islam, their points of view are not absurd.”
The populist parties oppose “Multiculturalism” as a destruction of the country, its values and a victory for radical Islam. They want the immigrant communities to “assimilate” and become European and adopt the Judeo-Christian civilization which made the West what it is today. A position the French Premier came very close to expressing on Monday.
Analysts, like Caldwell, say Europeans, who have made a “religion” of believing nothing, or little, will not win the battle of ideas against a forceful religious ideology based on family, reproduction and the strict code of moral values found in Islamic texts.
One may ask why someone who rejects French secularism would want to live in the country of the Enlightenment which promotes equality of women and recognizes gay marriage? And what “authoritarian measures” does Manuel Valls have in mind to repress them? France has already been in a State of Emergency, where many basic rights are suspended, for the past five months. It is hard to see how present European regulations will allow the French to preemptively ban Salafism before it turns to its more radical expression: Islamic Jihad.