EVENT TRANSCRIPT: President Macron’s Response to Islamism and Jihadist Terror: Lessons for Other Nations
DATE: 22 December, 3:00pm – 4:00pm
SPEAKERS: Dr Tommaso Virgili, Liam Duffy, Simone Rodan-Benzaquen
EVENT MODERATOR: Dr Paul Stott
Dr Paul Stott 02:05
Okay, good afternoon, everybody. My name is Dr Paul Stott, and I am the moderator for this one-hour discussion considering President Macron’s response to Islamism and Jihadist terrorism, and whether that response has lessons for other nation states. France has suffered more grievously than any other European nation when it comes to jihadist attacks. And it’s important, I think, in order to preface our discussion, to briefly recap on that history,
As far back as 1995 in 1996, Paris saw bombings on its public transport system by Algerian Jihadists. In 2012, Mohammed Merah announced a series of attacks on Muslim members of the French Armed Forces before killing three Jewish children in an attack on a school in Toulouse.
Since the 2015 massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, over 250 people have been killed in a series of atrocities aimed overwhelmingly at civilians. This has occurred to a backdrop of accusations of separatists and isolationist tendencies within French Islam and also an apparent population shift, for example, of Jews in Paris, to either areas of safety or even leaving the country entirely.
This Autumn, a French school teacher – Samuel Paty – was the target of a campaign of vilification after he showed controversial cartoons from the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo to pupils as part of his teaching. He was subsequently murdered.
Shortly afterwards, three Roman Catholics were stabbed to death at the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice by a jihadist who had recently entered the country via Italy from Tunisia.
Now, the Henry Jackson society is invited three speakers today to help make sense of these events and President Macron’s response to them. Each will speak for approximately 10 to 12 minutes, and after all three have spoken, there will be a question-and-answer session. Do please submit your questions online using the Q&A function, and we’ll then try and group two or three together at a time to put to the panellists.
Our speakers are as follows. Firstly, Liam Duffy, a prominent researcher in the field of counter extremism, and radicalization, most notably with the Counter Extremism project. He will be followed by Dr Tommaso Virgili, a researcher based at Berlin Social Science Centre, and a visiting fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. And thirdly, Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the American Jewish Congress, a former advisor in the French Ministry of Foreign and European affairs.
Liam, if you could unmute yourself, please, and over to your presentation. Thank you.
Liam Duffy 05:38
Thank you. Thanks, Paul, for inviting me, thanks to Henry Jackson society for having me. Hope my background I chose in the last 30 seconds isn’t too distracting. Obviously, our beloved London, which is now in Tier Four lockdown.
I think, first of all, if anybody tuned into my counter extremism project event along these lines, the first thing I need to do is apologise because I’m going to cover some of the same ground, but I think is a really fascinating discussion and it’s really important to reiterate some of the themes that came up in that in that presentation. If you didn’t see that then great, because this is all going to be new.
What’s happened in France, and there’s been a lot of headlines and conjecture around knee jerk reactions from the government. And I think that that’s that just shows you how little we’ve been paying attention in Anglosphere countries and other countries to what’s happening in France, because none of what’s happening is knee jerk reaction whatsoever. There’s been quite a long trajectory into the government’s response into the into the anti-separatism law, Paul, that you mentioned briefly, and the kind of rhetoric that we saw coming from Macron, and Minister Darmanin, and Jean Castex the Prime Minister, and so there has been a long lead up to this.
What would be useful is to look at that and also look at the development of the Islamist movement in France and try and outline some of the challenges that France is facing. Because as well as not really understanding the long lead up to this policy response that we’ve seen, it’s been really evident to me that we just don’t understand Islamism as a political movement in Anglosphere countries, in particular. And this is just reflected in in UK and US media coverage. So yeah, we might not understand laicité, we might not understand French universalism, but I think the real thing we need to get to grips with is Islamism, because we’re, we’re facing many of the same challenges as France. So, it’s a bit disappointing that we’re still at this stage that we are at, whereas France is obviously having a much more mature conversation. And I think Tommaso will, will cover this as well, but it’s not just France. There are a lot of other countries that are really maturing in their discussion.
So, what I’ll do is I’ll give you, I’ll give you my assessment of how we got to this point, and again, you know, this, this could be wrong, but this is my assessment as an outsider of how we got to this point of where the conversation is in France.
So, like a lot of other Western countries, for a long time, the debate was caught in this, you know, ‘it’s everything to do with ideology’, or ‘has nothing to do with ideology’, two polarised camps, and not really anyone meeting in the middle. And the two most intellectual, shall we say, or the most sophisticated proponents of those two camps – and this is being really uncharitable – were Olivier [inaudible] and Jill Capelle. And the debate was divided in France between those two camps.
And, again, to be really crude about how it was divided, there was Olivier’s view, which was that this is an Islamization of radicalism, whereas Capelle’s view was this is a radicalization of Islam or Islamism, and you can’t possibly disconnect the ideological tenets from the violence that we’re seeing.
Again, that’s really uncharitable and really crudely expressed because I don’t think either proponent of that view would completely discount the others. Olivier doesn’t completely discount the role of ideology, Capelle doesn’t completely discount the role of socio-economic factors. But I think that’s worth coming back to.
So, I think Macron when he first came into office was probably kind of on the fence on this. He saw the benefits to both arguments, but there’s been quite a lot of developments. Some of them terrorist attacks, like you mentioned, Paul, which have really brought the French policy response to a different place.
As Macron’s been in office, I think more and more evidence has stepped up, which has made it harder to discount Capelle’s view over Olivier’s view. Again, terrorist attacks as part of that, but it’s not just terrorist attacks. One of the things that really caused a bit of a national storm and a controversy in France, which didn’t register at all on this side of the channel, which is really interesting in itself because it just shows you how much of a disconnect there is. But two French journalists found a thumb drive which kind of showed millions and millions of euros of funding from overseas to Muslim Brotherhood, which is obviously for those listening in probably the most influential Islamist movement in the West. So, it showed millions of euros of funding across Europe. So not just France, but in Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Scandinavia, funding Muslim Brotherhood: mosque-building projects all the way in the north of Norway, down to Sicily, and everywhere in between. And the UK was on this thumb drive as well. And I think what that did really was, as well as creating a national conversation on this, and it was – the two journalists who found the thumb drive wrote a book and did a documentary and were on French television quite frequently and magazine shows, and current affairs shows – what it did was it raised the question of sovereignty and foreign state influence in the way that we worry about Russian state influence in western countries. It raised the spectre of foreign states supported Islamist influence in Europe. And again, I’ve written about this a little bit recently, but it also really poses the question of sovereignty. You know, who’s sovereign here? Is France and the Republic and its values and its laws sovereign? Or are these attempts to support movements which reject the very underpinning of that, are they sovereign? And about the influence that those kind of anti-sovereignty movements have on European Muslims is a big, big question. So that was a big thing that kicked off and again, didn’t really come onto the radar in the UK.
And then we saw a series of more scholarly works as well that really contributed to this discussion as well. So, we saw Bernard Rouget published a book – one of France’s leading scholars – ‘The Territories Conquered by Islamism’, which really outlined the growth of the Islamist movement in France, not just talking about Jihadism, but Islamism in a much more holistic way.
And again, I underlined the word territories is when I’ve spoken about this before, because I think that’s really important and underlies the shift. When you talk about territories, we’re not talking about, you know, something that’s happening online or in the shadows of the dark web, we’re talking about physical space, geography. So that’s really important. And then Hugo Micheron as well published a really kind of landmark study, where he looked at Syria, prisons, and the quartiers – the districts, the neighbourhoods – as the environmental factors. And it was really about pivoting the conversation away from jihadist radicalization in terms of individual psychosocial or socioeconomic factors towards the environmental – towards the ideological, and again, towards the geographical. And what’s really interesting, as well as in France, as well as the two journalists, the founders thumb drive of Muslim Brotherhood influence, people like Micheron, Capelle, Rouget are frequently in the news, in the mainstream on discussing shows. So, as well as influencing policy and influence influencing academic discourse, they’re influencing mainstream conversation in a way that perhaps their counterparts aren’t in other countries in a way that perhaps you know, it’s not every day that you see a jihadist scholar on Channel Four news or BBC News, this only really happens when there’s been an attack. Whereas for friends, this has been a real overriding theme and a conversation. Obviously, a lot of that has to do with the casualties from the terrorist attacks that you talked about Paul.
And then crucially, and this is this is worth bearing in mind, crucially, there’s been prominent left-wing figures that have been a part of this as well, which is not something we’ve necessarily seen in some other European countries. So, Charlie Hebdo was a part of that because Charlie Hebdo, despite portrayals as a kind of racist far right magazine is that is fundamentally a left wing, secularist magazine, satirical magazine. So, I think the attack on Charlie Hebdo really brought a lot of people on the left along with this conversation. And then obviously, kind of tireless and fearless journalists like Caroline Forrest brought people along as well. And these are people who are in the mainstream and in the public eye a lot as well. And the two journalists (inaudible), kind of solidly liberal left credentials as well. So, this is no longer just the discussion that’s happening on the political right in France.
So that’s the that’s the way the top conversation has developed. But it’s worth talking about how the Islamist movement is developed in France as well, because, as I mentioned, nobody’s really tried to bother investigating that. And I think the way the way of putting it is there’s been there is or there has been for Islamisms: four waves or four layers of Islamism. The first was, was (inaudible), which is this kind of super missionary movement, a very, very orthodox, very conservative and also a withdrawing movement – they’re sometimes classified as rejectionist as in withdrawing from civil society and democratic participation. And in the words of the researcher, (inaudible), who was another really influential person in this conversation, what they did was re-Islamise what was actually quite a secular Muslim population in France. Then on top of that layer, you have the activism of the political activism of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their satellite organisations. And what we saw was the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups – ideological fellow travellers – attach French Muslim religious identity to their preferred political causes. So, things like Palestine, exploiting the hijab controversies, the headscarf controversies, exploiting foreign policy, domestic policy. So, for these groups and their followers, Islam is no longer just the relationship between the citizen and God, it’s now a political belief system as well. And what you have there is this politically agitated, animated audience who has digested this Muslim Brotherhood message. Then the third layer you’ve got is the Salafists, which many people listening in will know that the Salafist interpretation is, again, an ultra-orthodox, ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam. And what they’ve done in many cases Salafists are quiet, it’s a much more private belief system that doesn’t advocate for political activism. But once that layer came in on top of the Muslim Brotherhood and politicised activism, you have a politicised Salafism now. So, you have you have all of the tenets of Salafi ideology, but it’s also politically agitated and politically animated. And there’s a lot of what I call ‘cross-pollination’ between these Islamists and the Salafis. Which gives us the fourth layer. And the fourth are the Jihadis. An in these environments where the Salafis and the Islamists have created ecosystems, ideological environments, however you want to put it, it’s been open season for the Jihadists to recruit. And it’s been a lot easier for them to move in those communities because a) they’re afforded ideological oxygen, but also, it’s a mildly sympathetic milieu around these people as well. This is not just the, you know, one terrorist here one terrorist there: it’s a network with a big constituency around it that needs to survive, and the Islamists and the Salafists are, in France’s view, responsible for that.
So just to just to come back to Olivier’s view very briefly about the kind of Islamization of radicalism. So, this is why I think ideology matters even if we accept Olivier’s view that the socio-economic factors are really important and, you know, this is young men looking for a cause to latch onto to wreak havoc as people have done throughout history. The reason it matters is that in the 20th century, if you were looking for that outlet, you were looking for that, that kind of cause to latch on to, you might gravitate towards, you know, Marxist Leninist groups like the Red Army Faction or something like that.
This is where ideology comes in as well. And I think we misunderstood ideology, as ideology doesn’t just give you a worldview, it also licences and it restrains, and that’s really important. It tells you what you can and can’t do to support your belief system. So, if you latch on to the Red Army Faction, we know they were involved in hijackings in bombings against certain American targets and military bases and things like that. But there were still, you know, some rules of engagement in the way that they were with the IRA. Now, if you wanted to latch on to a kind of radical cause – let’s say you latch onto Extinction Rebellion, and this is going to sound a bit silly, and I’m kind of saying this tongue in cheek. But let’s say you latch onto extinction rebellion, you might glue yourself to the DLR, like we saw recently, that’s your radical activism. If you latch onto Salafism as we saw with Samuel Paty’s case, you might cut someone’s head off. That’s the difference. The ideology still matters, because what this is, is a much more violent iteration, a much more licentious ideology than any other of the kind of radical ideologies that we’ve dealt with in the past. Mass acts of violence and mass slaughter against civilians are justified in this in this ideological framework in a way that they’re not with either ideology. So, I hope that shows why I think that tackling ideology still matters, even if even if you accept the raw view that people are latching on to this for a cause.
In terms of lessons for Western countries – I mentioned this briefly and before we got going – I think it’s really ominous that France is trying to take steps which go beyond the usual kind of platitudes that we hear a lot about counterterrorism and radicalization and is introducing what is a ‘whole of society’ approach. What this anti-separatism law is, is that. It is a whole of society approach to fighting both the so-called social cohesion problem and terrorist radicalization problem. And the controversy it’s been met with does not match up to the reality of the document that we’re talking about. So, I think every western country should be really nervous about the resistance and the backlash that France has faced. Because it shows that if you do try and take things beyond the platitudes to protect from Islamist subversion and jihadist terror, you’re going to face a hell of a lot of opposition. So, I think that’s a really key thing for Western countries.
And I think just to really wrap up, I wouldn’t advocate for everything that France is doing, or has done in this case. I think, you know, in the UK, we can afford to be a lot more modest if we had a wish list on this. But I think just in terms of looking at France, as an example of having a much more realistic and mature, and open discussion that’s happening in the mainstream about this problem. Because the threats are not done and we’re still going to have terrorist attacks, there’s going to be more deaths. And I think we should be having these conversations now while we’re, you know, in a relatively quiet period compared to the horror years of ISIS. Because it will happen again. So, I think, let’s use this opportunity to have a more mature conversation, and also look at the environmental, the ideological and the geographical factors, and not just make this a very over-individualised phenomenon. That’s me.
Dr Paul Stott 21:05
Liam, thank you very much for your contribution. Our next speaker will be Tommaso Virgili. Now, just before I hand over to Tommaso, I think we got over 160 people with us online now. Please do use the q&a function in order to ask your questions. And we will come to questions after the speakers. Tommaso, over to you
Dr Tommaso Virgili 21:29
Thank you, Paul, and thank you to the Henry Jackson Society for having me here today. I think Liam has set the scene very well already. It’s worth mentioning that all these debates about Islamism in France, is the object of a very comprehensive report issued by the French Senate in July of 2020. Tens of scholars, frontline practitioners, religious figures contributed to this report. And these findings were actually talking about an Islamist ecosystem that has created what Macron has then defined the phenomenon of Islamist (inaudible). What are we talking about when we talk about an Islamist ecosystem? Basically, it is a network of Islamic organisations, mosques, associations, social pressure in so-called ghetto neighbourhoods that promote an extremist view of Islam and behaviours that are against the law and the Constitution.
Now, as Liam was mentioning, we have seen so many, especially from the US and the UK who have accused Macron actually (inaudible) as well, we should remember that (inaudible) is actually following a similar path of Islamophobia, or in more refined versions of attacking someone who is actually native to the democratic society, namely a conservative view of religion. But actually, we should ask ourselves, what’s this conservative view of religion? Basically, where should we draw the line between legitimate personal beliefs and unacceptable ideologies? Now, when we speak of Islamism, we should follow in my view, a scholar (inaudible), in distinguishing between political Islamism as Liam said before, which actually seeks political power in order to change society from above, and this societal Islamism that tries to impose rigid moral behaviours at the bottom level of society. So, when we speak of the Islamist ecosystem, we need to take into consideration the results of this societal control. This is not simply a conservative view of religion. It’s actually an ideology a very specific ideology that produces inacceptable and even illegal phenomena.
I could mention, for instance, a cross-country research directed by the head of the department where I’m working, Professor Ruth Copelands. They examined the behaviours and thoughts of Sunni Muslims across Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden. And some findings are actually very worrying. 57% of Sunni Muslims in those examined countries do not accept homosexuality, 45% do not trust Jews, 54% see the West as an enemy out to destroy Islam and a recent poll in France, conducted by EFO for the (inaudible) showed that, if I’m not mistaken, 27% of Muslims consider Sharia law as prevailing over the laws of the country. And this percentage raised to 41% when we speak of non-citizen Muslim residents in France. And things go even worse when we go
into younger generations, because 50% of younger individuals according to another peer review research actually pose Sharia about secular law. So, this means conservatism. It’s a phenomenon that cannot simply be dismissed as actually a personal attitude towards religion because it translates into illegal phenomena, such as outward hostility, cultural crimes – such as FGM and honour killings- and even incitation to violence, as we have seen in the case of France namely, Samuel Paty. France is by no means the only country that is witnessing this phenomenon. I’ve mentioned some before, but I could have that when it comes specifically to caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, around 80% of British Muslims say they do not accept these kinds of depictions and between 11 and 18% argue that violence is a justified reaction. Still, in the UK, only 8% of Muslims agree that homosexuality should be legal. We have different data also from the Netherlands and Sweden, about the attitude towards women and 28% of Muslims believe that they have (inaudible) their wives from leaving their houses. And I could go ahead with numbers. Of course, I know that polls should always surveys should always be taken with a grain of salt. These are not scientific evidences in the natural science meaning of the term. But however, from different kind of surveys we can draw two main findings. First, Muslims are not a homogeneous entity as Islamists try to depict them. So even if we take a very high percentage, like the one I mentioned before – 80% of Muslims in the UK do not accept drawings of the Prophet Mohammed -, it still means that there are 20% of Muslims that do. That do believe that freedom is above the tenets of Sharia law. And what Islamists try to do is always to centralise Muslims and depict Muslims as a single entity. And from there, we have all the phenomena of the attacks against Charlie Hebdo as a racist magazine, as if they had attacked Muslims as such, someone is talking about Muslims as such, is a very dangerous expression.
The other findings that I would like to highlight is that, indeed, as Macron has said, there is a large percentage of Muslims that have problematic views when it comes to social coexistence, and liberal democratic values. And this is something that even our top-level institutions and security institutions are starting to understand more and more widely across Europe. I’d mentioned before the report of the French Senate, but I could mention last year’s report from the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution that released the report on anti-Semitism in Islamism, in which they say clearly that Islamist promote anti-Semitic tropes and ideas that have taken root among the Muslim populations of German. I could mention the 2017 reports of the Swedish civil contingency agencies concerning the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafism, or the 2017 inquiry of the Belgian Parliament on the same subject. Still in 2017 report came out, commissioned by the Austrian intelligence on Islamism in Austria. And of course, you are all work very well acquainted with the 2015 main findings of the British inquiry. So, all these reports actually give the same picture, which is the picture of a worrying societal phenomenon that is the breeding ground of an escalation that can even bring violence.
To conclude, we should be very wary of not being too much comforted by the idea of lone wolves. When we speak of lone wolves, we are not actually speaking of a nerd guy that radicalises on the internet inside a basement without having contact with anybody and at some point, he goes in the street, and he starts to stab people around. This is not what a lone wolf is. It is not what happened in Austria and France recently. A lone wolf is someone that surely doesn’t have organisational ties to the terrorist group, which means they also don’t have the capacity of conducting large scale attacks such as those that we have seen in 2015. However, they came from somewhere. But here in the Austrian case, as well as the Nice case show the reality of individuals which have a network of organisations, mosques, Imams that support them in their process of radicalization, and that constitute the breeding ground towards the completion of certain attacks. So, to conclude, really, I think that reactive measures are insufficient. Our security services cannot control all potential threats. The Austrian terrorist had been released after one year for trying to join ISIS was under surveillance and last year, we believe the person participated in the deradicalization course in England before attacking passers-by at the London Bridge. So reactive measures, the radicalization measures, have proven very insufficient. Where we need to act is actually before. The stage before. The stage of the breeding ground that creates the ideological escalation. That’s why I believe that Macron’s attempts are the right direction.
Dr Paul Stott 33:12
Tommaso, I thank you very much for your contribution. Just a quick message for those who are joining us online, do please ask questions using the q&a function on the screen. I’d now like to hand over to Simone.
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen 33:28
Thank you very much, Paul, thank you very much for having me. It’s really a pleasure to be with you today. Much has already been said, I have to say, both Liam and Tommaso have said much of what I wanted to say. So, I apologise if I if I’m repeating things. Maybe just to reinforce some of the messages and then sort of give you a little bit of a perspective from a French citizen and also a member of the French Jewish community and the director of the AJC Europe office, to give you a little bit of a slightly different perspective, but really coming to the same conclusion. And first and foremost, I entirely agree with the fact that much that has been written in the English-speaking press over the past few weeks and months over the French separatism bill and France’s fighting Islam has been pretty dishonest I would say. Macron has been accused of lurching to the right on attacking Islam and Muslims. France’s republican model, its secularism, its universalism have been criticized, laicité so-called institutional racism or Islamophobia. And honestly, for many of us, not only does it really seem unfair, and when I say ‘us’ I mean French people who are trying to defend the French Republican model, but also it felt very much like victim blaming, and also reminded us of the past. Of the incidents when Charlie Hebdo first published the caricature to Charlie Hebdo itself. And really, to some extent, I really thought that this some of the things that had been published were pretty irresponsible because lives are actually at risk here. But despite the manipulation of you know, individuals, like Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, or much of the English-speaking press or part of the English-speaking press, I want to be clear, the government has made it very clear that they are targeting an Islamist minority and not a majority of Muslims who are peacefully observing their faith.
So, again, Liam said much of it, and I want to make very clear that when Emmanuel Macron first came to power, he was neither an expert of Islamism, nor necessarily one who, I think had a very clear view on what he thought. He was indeed sort of in between, I would say. But indeed, much of the discourse, much of the debate much of the facts have really, I think, managed to convince him of the Capelle aspect of things. So, I think he now does indeed believe that Islamism and Salafism in particular have really served to separate Muslims from the rest of society and are indeed an entry point into this sort of Islamic radicalization. Now, maybe to give you a little bit of a perspective on the Jewish aspect of it because as you mentioned earlier, the Jews in particular have been attacked in France, not only through jihadism, but also through Islamist separatism. Over the past 13 years, Jews have been attacked all over Europe, whether it’s violent murders, or just you know, regular attacks on Jews. So, Jews had to leave much of the lost territories of the Republic, if I may say so. So, in the outskirts of Paris, in particular, there are today no Jews left in French public schools. They basically all had to leave to different areas. And it’s what we call today in France, the “internal Aliyah”, meaning rather than going to Israel, French Jews are moving because their reality has just become too difficult. And when the attacks in 2015 happened, I think those were probably the least surprised about what happened, meaning the attacks of Charlie Hebdo and then the hypercacher, were probably members of the French Jewish community. Not only because of 2012 (meaning not only of Mohammed Merah) but because of everything they had been witnessing really over the past 10 to 15 years. They had seen a radicalization. They had seen that anti-Semitism was sort of the ideological backbone of some of those Islamist movements. And when the Merah trial then happened, Mohammed Merah being the one who killed those three Jewish schoolchildren and teacher and previously the soldiers – the apostates because he had received all of them to be of Muslim origin -, in his testimony, Merah’s brother said, ‘in the Merah household we were brought up with hating Jews, the hatred of everything that was not Muslim’. And I think that gave many of us an indication of the environment in which Mohammed Merah was immersed in his family’s way of thinking. Now, prior to that, I think for many, many years, it was impossible to speak about this phenomenon. Many in France refused basically to take notice of, for reasons of either political ideology or discomfort or lack of courage. Many, I think, feared being accused of being Islamophobic or playing into the hands of the far right. Others simply thought it was inconceivable that a French Muslim minority that itself is indeed victim of racism and discrimination could itself be guilty of racism and even violence. So, I have to say for a very, very, very long time, there was silence and indeed there have been numerous studies that have looked at French Muslims looking at their opinion and also specifically looking at anti-Semitism within the Muslim community. So, in 2015, together with the (inaudible) the Fondation pour l’innovation politique – a French Think Tank – we looked at some of those anti-Semitic stereotypes that existed within the Muslim community. And we could see, without being able to name that they were Islamists, but we could really see that the higher the level of practice, the higher the level of belief, the higher level of anti-Semitism.
Now, a few years ago, I published an op-ed, and I wrote that I believe that destroy Islamist extremists, basically aim to separate Muslims from the rest of society by making them believe that France is an Islamophobic country, and that their community is not the French community but something else. And, to some extent, I think that has worked, I think we see today, to some extent, a Muslim community in France that has a sentiment of being ostracised within society. We have this phenomenon of Islamophobia and different organisations who have been really trying to promote this idea that state Islamophobia, that state racism, does exist and that any kind of criticism of Islamism is indeed actually a sort of racism. And this, I think, has also contributed to this separatist idea. Now, I think what has really, really changed with Emmanuel Macron and the French government approach is, as Liam has said, is it is taking into the consideration the ideology, and really having indeed, such as a sort of a whole of society approach. An approach that is holistic in itself, and doesn’t only look at, you know, different aspects of the problem.
Maybe, maybe just to conclude, because I know there are questions, and I don’t want to be too long. I think there are a few things that need to be happening also on the European level if we want to counter this phenomenon effectively. And this, I think, is particularly important, given that EU Member States and the European Commission have not always critically reviewed the organisation, individuals they have funded. Very often, they have empowered groups that basically, ultimately oppose the very ideas and values that we’re trying to defend. For example, the recently banned Collective Against Islamophobia was actually funded by the European Commission. Second, I think on the issue of sovereignty, it’s not only an issue I would argue of national sovereignty, but I would also argue it’s an issue of European sovereignty. As Liam said, speaking about (inaudible)’s book, when you have foreign countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, who basically have an impact in Muslim communities in Europe, whether it is by financing imams, mosques, Islamic schools, or even propaganda – you know, much softer via Al Jazeera or the very cool AJ+. This obviously has an influence on European Muslims
And finally, I think that it’s important for European governments, including for the French government, to have a little bit of coherence between the internal policy of combating Islamism and the foreign policy. So, in conversations with different countries such as Qatar, Turkey, etc, this issue I think needs to be addressed. And I’ll stop here and let questions be asked.
Dr Paul Stott 44:36
Okay, Simone, thank you very much for your contribution. In terms of questions, I’d like to take them in groups of three. So, if I could ask people who are being called to use the un-mic button so they can be heard and the first person to ask a question, please Corinne Levy Lauren.
The question is for Simone. What do you think of the tally of anti-Semitic Twitters sent to Miss Provence, April Benayoum, who said in an interview that her father was Israeli? Do you think that anti-Semitism is becoming deeper with Islamism? I mean, with a high number of Muslims moving to France and becoming French, or anti-Semitism is simply part of the French people’s history? And I will not make it longer because the question is already long, but you know the Dreyfuss Affair and all the stories, the collaborators during the Second World War etc. and so on. Thank you.
Dr Paul Stott 45:56
Okay, thank you, Corinne. Could I ask Frank Duffield to speak please?
President Macron’s comments provoked a lot of reaction muttered from predictable sources and places. But an interesting comment came from the Prime Minister of Canada, Trudeau, and his comments seemed to suggest that we need to tolerate people whose views are intolerant. I just wonder to what extent that sort of view is prevalent in progressive and academic thinking in the Anglo-Saxon world, in much of Europe, and still even so in France, and that hinders a proper understanding of and dealing with the challenge that political Islamism brings.
Dr Paul Stott 47:03
Thank you, Frank. And the next question, please, from Wesley Shaw.
Hello. My question would be principally for Liam. I live in France and the French view with respect to the UK is that Islamic separatism is not a problem in the UK because of the multicultural social model in which different communities living by their own principles and customs and so on, are tolerated. The French view of the UK is the kind of separatism that’s a problem for France is not a problem in the UK. I just like to know Liam’s view about that issue.
Dr Paul Stott 47:45
Okay, thank you Wesley and to everybody who has asked the question. If people could still carry on sending in their questions during the using the q&a function.
Simone, that first question was for you about Miss Provence and the anti-Semitism argument recently.
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen 48:02
Yeah. And just to give context for those of you who have haven’t seen it, we had Miss France election a couple of days ago where the one of the misses was Miss Provence who, just by describing who she was, said that her father was Israeli. And so, we basically had a storm of horrible anti-Semitic tweets online from you know, “Hitler’s was right” and just horrible things. But to be very, very clear, Islamist anti-Semitism is the anti-Semitism that has been killing in France for the past for the since 2003, really.
It’s that anti-Semitism that definitely creates the biggest damage. But it’s not the only one. There are at least three sources of anti-Semitism. There is the anti-Semitism as I mentioned, from the Islamist. But there is also of course, the anti-Semitism that we all know so well, and that does exist within French society that is on the far right. Then there is the anti-Semitism that exists solely on the far left, that is often confounded with anti-Zionism or hiding behind the anti-Zionism. Now what I think is extremely worrying and that we’ve seen basically happening over the past 10 years is how this all of these different forms of anti-Semitism are basically all sort of, you know, nurturing rather than destroying each other. So, one of the most emblematic moments was in in 2014 where we had the “jour de colère”, the day of anger, a day where you had people demonstrating against the then-government of Francois Holland and against gay marriage, against this and that – basically wanting an out. You did have people from the far right, people from the far left or the Islamic groups, also this French comedian who is an extremely horrific anti-Semitic. And these people have nothing in common. Nothing in common whatsoever. But what they were shouting in the streets of Paris was “Jews, Jews, France”. “Jews, Jews have to get out of France”. So, you really can see this, you know, how this how these extremes are nurturing each other.
Dr Paul Stott 50:42
Okay, Simone, thank you very much. The second question we had was that question from Frank, referring to Trudeau, the Canadian leader, and do we do we need to be prepared to tolerate the intolerance? Because, of course, historically, we would, within Western culture have this view where, you know, we might not agree with something, but we’d defend to the end somebody’s right to say it.
Tommaso, could you perhaps say something in terms of the Trudeau point on the question that Frank asked?
Dr Tommaso Virgili 51:18
Well, this is what I call the ‘rock, paper, scissors game’ with ideologies and human rights. Meaning that if certain statements came from or when they actually come from extreme rights, the Catholic Church, or other entities from the within the West, progressives always repel them quite violently, even in the form of cancel culture. So, when, for instance, we hear anti-Semitism from the extreme right, we hear homophobic statements from priests, we hear anti-abortionists from Christian circles, there is no tolerance towards them, actually, in the prevalent progressive discourse. When it comes from Islam, if we refer to Trudeau for instance, there are declarations from Cologne which kind of defended female genital mutilation as an expression of a specific culture. I think later, he apologized for that, but it’s quite emblematic of a certain mindset.
Now to answer briefly the question, there are two different points of view here. One is the point of view of criminal law. Of course, I like the First Amendment style of freedom of expression. I believe that freedom of expression should be the largest one, and to the largest extent, as long as there is no imminent danger provoked by expression. So, when it comes to prohibiting speech, I would set the bar very high. However, when it comes to supporting organisations and individuals that promote certain views, when it comes to the political support, intellectual support, then the music changes, and we must be very clear. We must be very clear that funding that we have seen flowing from western states and the European Union towards Islamist organisations that release fatwas against women, against gays, against Jews – this is not something we can tolerate in our society. So, maybe we don’t put them in prison if their speech doesn’t amount out to a crime under the labels of hate speech and similar, but for sure, we must condemn it. And this, importantly, in progressive circles, doesn’t happen because they apply a double standard. Just a brief example. When some organisations try to organise a gay pride in Sweden, I think the Muslim neighbourhood, certain LGBT organisations accused them of being Islamophobic because they were ‘provoking’. So, this kind of speech in Italy we hear from “Forza Nuova”, the most extreme far right party, that calls on prohibiting gay pride in Rome because there is the Pope. And in that context, we can hear from progressive organisations. Maryam Namazie in the UK. She’s the head of the group of ex Muslims and the police tried to shut her down when she participated into a gay pride with a banner saying, “Allah is gay”. So, this is a double standard.
Dr Paul Stott 55:18
Okay, thank you, Tommaso. Oh, and I think on Maryam Namazie, who you mentioned, it’s also worth adding that she was no platformed at Warwick university by the student activists, which shows perhaps another problem on these issues. Liam, Wesley Shaw was asking about multiculturalism, which, of course, is the British model, if you like, and arguably different to the French tradition of laicité. Your views, please.
Liam Duffy 55:52
Yeah, sure. So, I think I think the question is about whether what Macron calls the ‘separatism problem’ is comparable between France and the UK and to what extent. This is obviously anecdotal, I haven’t got studies to back this up, but my estimation would be that France has a more developed separatism problem. Rather than a different problem, it has a more developed problem, and separatism as a term makes more sense in a French context, because of the Universalist context. It doesn’t make as much sense, you know, in a British context, because of the multicultural model and history that we have. I think there are kind of neighbourhoods or locales or districts or banlieues – however you want to put it – in France, which, to put it bluntly, have become kind of Salafist strongholds. There’s a couple of examples – places about 25 kilometres from Paris where the Salafists have become really, really dominant. They’re really influential. And what we’ve seen is large numbers of people – I think, officially, the figures were between 50 and 70 people – joined ISIS just from a place like Trappes, 25 kilometres from Paris. So, you can see the influence of Salafism there. I’m not sure, or I’m yet to be convinced that there’s evidence of equivalent places in the United Kingdom to somewhere like that, in terms of that, that separatist or that or, you know, one political movement having such influence over one district. So, it’s not the same level of challenge. But the tactics are still the same from Islamist and Salafist groups. The tactics, and the narratives, whether it’s Brussels or London or Manchester, are still the same. And the other elements of this is, when it comes to terrorism, rather than the separatism problem, the patterns we see are the same in the UK. So, we see hotspots of radicalization, we see, we see nodes of people join ISIS from Manchester, from Cardiff, from a particular native neighbourhood in Cardiff. And often you’ll have a non-violent Islamist or Salafist activity around that environment around that milieu. So, the Libyan radicals in Manchester, university societies in London, certain religious institutions in in parts of Cardiff. So, there is there is crossover in the problem, but just in terms of just how pronounced it is. And there’s all sorts of historical and financial and all sorts of reasons for that. But I’m not sure it’s quite at the same level.
Dr Paul Stott 58:16
Probably just got time for one more question. Could I call Barrett Shah? Mr. Shah, please, to ask your question.
When we deal with radicalised Islam, I would rather deal with a smaller number of people than more obviously. That means we need to identify and support moderate Muslims to bring them to our site. Question is, how do we identify? And how do we support? Thank you.
Dr Paul Stott 59:03
Thank you. Could we perhaps hear from each of the panellists here in turn, Simone, could I start with you, please?
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen 59:14
Yes, first of all, I couldn’t agree more. I think one of the problems that we’ve seen in the past is that there’s been sort of a tendency to want to speak to representatives within Muslim bodies. And sometimes those representative Muslim bodies were neither representative nor did they share any of our values and were actually sometimes destructive. There was a second assumption that, you know, at the end of the day, we could speak to Islamists if they weren’t and violent. That, from my perspective, that’s as if you try to combat neo-Nazis by working with, I don’t know, a far-right entity. I think that was that was part of the problem until now. I think there is the possibility of both identifying Muslim individuals rather than necessarily representative bodies You don’t have to be afraid of speaking to people who don’t necessarily represent an organisation or don’t necessarily pretend to represent the Muslim community. As Tommaso said, it’s much more complex than that, and there is no one Muslim community. And there is no way of essentializing the Muslim community. And try and support those voices. And I would say not just moderate Muslims, but actually reformist Muslims. And that being said, I think there’s been some progress that has been made on the on the French side so far on the Muslim community, individuals who have started to speak out who used to not do that in the past. And also, some of the more representative organisations have started to speak out, by the way, including really supporting the French approach in combating separatism.
Dr Paul Stott 1:01:13
Tommaso, quickly, please.
Dr Tommaso Virgili 1:01:15
I couldn’t agree more with Simone. Moderate is a very dangerous term, because it has referred for many years to organisations that simply didn’t place bombs, but whose ideology was very dangerous. So how do we identify liberal democratic reformist Muslims? In a nutshell, they are those who put individual rights and the secular law above the inner belief. You believe whatever you wish, but the law protecting individual rights goes beyond your beliefs, it’s very difficult to identify them because they are less prone to getting in groups than Islamists are. So, it is much more difficult to have groups of liberal Muslims, there are individuals as Simone was saying but they exist and there is possibility of empowering them. I know many examples myself.
Dr Paul Stott 1:02:15
And Liam, please.
Liam Duffy 1:02:17
Yeah, just really quickly. I don’t really like the moderate Muslim framing, for the same reason that Tommaso doesn’t like it but also for another reason. And that is that, I mean, it implies that there’s this kind of division between moderate and an extremist when, actually in reality, you know, most Muslims in France and Britain just want to go to work and have a family and go on with their lives and don’t really care about politics and political activism, which is entirely their right, and I would support them not to give a damn as well. I mean, you know, you’ve seen many of them, Muslims in France have been victims of these terrorist attacks. So just in terms of supporting more people to speak up, I mean, we need to be more conscious of how much risk these people take on, not just it now in terms of physical risk, especially in the aftermath of Samuel Paty, but also reputational and professional and social risk – you know, Islamic groups make it very, very difficult for Muslims to speak out and I’m not just talking about reformist, there’s plenty of conservative Muslims who are anti-Islamist as well who are strong voices against this. But you know, they pay a price. So, I think we need to be more conscious of that and protect them as much as possible.
Dr Paul Stott 1:03:25
Thank you, Liam. Thank you to everybody who has contributed questions. Thank you to everybody who’s joined us, both on Zoom and on Facebook. And thank you to all three of our excellent speakers. I hope you’ll be able to join the Henry Jackson Society again. Thank you everyone, and happy Christmas. Goodbye.