With the slaughter at Charlie Hebdo and at the Hyper Cacher supermarket, France has experienced a heightened level of Islamic terrorism since the beginning of the year. Yet it is strangely reluctant to tackle the phenomenon, which threatens the whole of Europe.
In the past Islamic terrorism has mainly, but not exclusively, targeted Jews. Mohammed Merah had killed two French soldiers and wounded a third before murdering Jewish children and teachers in Toulouse.
French security services are working round the clock to prevent further attacks, meeting with little to no success. Only recently they prevented large-scale attacks on the country’s vulnerable churches.
However, with radical organizations working within the large Muslim communities, which are to be found everywhere now, and with a Muslim population estimated at six million, security services have their work cut out.
The French government has chosen a rather circuitous approach to the problem and set up a framework of dialogue with its Muslim minority – or, more precisely, with its religious leaders. The first meeting was held in Paris on June 14 – under the auspices of Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his minister of interior, Bernard Cazeneuve – with some 150 Muslim dignitaries, led by Dalil Boubakeur, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, whose creation in 2003 was promoted by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The council has failed dismally to fulfill its intended goals – namely, promoting dialogue with non-Muslims and addressing Islamic terrorism – and has lost much of its prestige.
In the course of several seminars, the dignitaries were asked to formulate their demands, and they asked for more protection for their mosques, a stronger government response to what they called Islamophobia, the building of more mosques – 5,000 were mentioned – as well as more mundane subjects such as a greater supply of halal meat and imposing a special tax on that meat to finance building and other community needs.
On the latter point the minister of interior stated that France, being a secular country, could not do so, but would see what could be done regarding the building of mosques as well as taking steps to ensure greater security for mosques and other community infrastructures.
One of the participants suggested turning churches into mosques; the outcry was such that he quickly retreated. Yet the bishop of the city of Évry went on the record to say that he would rather see a church become a mosque than a restaurant. This readiness to forgo centuries-old traditions raised quite a few eyebrows.
Sensitive topics such as the problem of Islam in France, Islamic terrorism, the radicalization of Islamic youth and the fact that hundreds of them have joined the ranks of Islamic State were not discussed – in the words of the organizers, “in order not to insult the Muslim community.”
Worse, there was no mention of anti-Semitism, one of the major problems in Europe today. The growing number of anti-Semitic incidents in 21st-century France has led more and more Jews to flee a country where Jews have been living for over a thousand years, yet France resolutely refuses to recognize Muslim anti-Semitism as well as renewed Christian anti-Semitism.
A matter of days after the conclusion of the meetings, due to be held again in 2016, one Yassin Salhi contributed his own take on the dialogue. Having decapitated his employer, he hung the severed head between two flags bearing the Shahada – the Muslim profession of faith, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah” – on the fence of a factory which, in the nick of time, he was prevented from blowing up. He had managed to post a selfie of himself with the severed head of his victim on his WhatsApp account and send it to a “friend” in Syria.
Interestingly, President François Hollande, rushing to the media after the macabre discovery, refrained from using the words “Islam” or “Islamic terrorism” and did not mention that there was an inscription in Arabic on the flags.
It was left to the charismatic Valls to declare boldly to Europe 1 radio that France was under a strategic threat that would have to be tackled.
“We are in a war of civilizations,” he said.
He was immediately reviled by many members of his own socialist party and pilloried in the media. Yet, in the wake of the January attacks, Valls had already said: “We are at war against terrorism and radical Islam” and had pledged €100 million to the fight against terrorism.
Unfortunately little was done beyond setting up the dialogue framework mentioned above.
The Left in France still insists in pretending that it is the Muslim community that is the first victim of Islamic terrorism. And the government still refuses to see that at the core of the problem is radical Islam and the sympathy it receives among not only the Muslim population but the extreme Left. Not only the media but also academic circles proclaim that a small extremist Islamic minority is responsible for all acts of terrorism, which they believe are “against the values of Islam.”
At the same time, on the other side of the Mediterranean divide, the highest religious authorities of Islam know only too well that Islam, as it is taught in schools and universities throughout the Islamic world and especially at Al-Azhar University and major Saudi Arabian universities, is at the core of the problem, and they are trying to address it.
The Shari’a and its sources – Koran, Sunna and traditions based on the way of life of the disciples of the prophet Muhammad and his warriors – are the true basis of the attacks on the West, as they are the true basis of the actions of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
There is an enormous amount of soul-searching among the greatest scholars of Islam, who are desperately trying to find a way to eliminate some of the most extreme texts in a curriculum which has remained unchanged for centuries.
To date, only one man has done something about it. President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi of Egypt has launched a comprehensive review of school texts to eradicate calls to jihad and to extremism, a move that France – whose motto is “Freedom, equality and fraternity” – would do well to ponder, if not to emulate.The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.