June 6, 2007

VIII. Impact on France's Muslim Communities

Estimates of the number of Muslims living in France range between three and five million.The vast majority are of Algerian, Moroccan, or Tunisian nationality or descent, while a smaller number are of Turkish, Iraqi and other Arab, Bosnian, or sub-Saharan African nationality or descent, among others.In the decades following World War II, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Maghreb region, especially Algerians, came seeking work, some of them with a view to returning eventually to their countries. Family reunification policies established in the mid-1960s allowed many to bring their families to France, however, and short-term immigration became permanent settlement.

An uneasy conversation about the place of Muslims, and the Muslim faith, has dominated public debate in France in recent years.Long-term residency, acquisition of French nationality, and mixed marriages, among other factors, have contributed to greater integration of Maghreb communities in France.[235]Still, the widespread rioting in October and November 2005 in poor, predominantly immigrant communities-banlieues-on the periphery of Paris and other major cities vividly called into question the French assimilationist approach.While some commentators attempted to link the revolt to the influence of political Islam, most analysts now agree that the rioting was largely an expression of rage by mostly Muslim youths against what they perceive as economic and social marginalization.[236]Samy Debah, an anti-discrimination activist, says his organization, the Collectif contre l'Islamophobie (Collective against Islamophobia), constantly documents instances of employment and housing discrimination against Muslims. In his view, "Nobody in France would say, I won't hire you because you're a woman or you're black or you're Jewish, but they would say, I won't hire you because you wear the headscarf.It's totally acceptable.And you can only talk like that in a particular political context of discrimination."[237]

The debate about integration has been "securitized" in the context of the fight against terrorism, and this conflation is perhaps demonstrated most forthrightly in the focus on controlling and shaping the Muslim faith in France.In the name of encouraging the emergence of an "Islam of France," the French government created the French Council of the Muslim Creed (CFCM) in 2003.The goal was to provide an institutional interlocutor for the government on matters relating to the practice of Islam, and a body that could oversee mosques and prayer halls, train French-speaking imams, and develop religious services in prison.[238]An important part of the reasoning behind the creation of the CFCM was the concern that foreign-born imams, many of whom cannot speak French and who preach strict adherence to fundamentalist Islamic principles, are over-represented in the nation's Muslim places of worship.Their teachings, the logic goes, are both at odds with French values and may contribute to radicalization.Speaking generally about countering radicalization, then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy asserted, "We must act against these radical preachers who are capable of influencing the youngest and weakest-minded."[239]

The 2004 law banning religious symbols in public schools can also be viewed in this light.Though the law prohibits all conspicuous religious symbols, including the Jewish Kippah, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses, it was so widely interpreted as targeting the Muslim headscarf that it is now commonly referred to simply as the "headscarf law."Proponents of the ban saw it as an imperative in defense not only of France's tradition of lacite but also the "French value" of gender equality.

Counterproductive Counterterrorism Measures

Many Muslims feel acutely what one analyst has called the "common misrepresentation that Islam is inherently radical or resolutely incompatible with French republicanism."[240]Kamel Kabtane, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Lyon, explained,

Every time someone defends a right, he is seen as a fundamentalist.So the mere act of wearing the headscarf is interpreted as an act of violence against society... the fact of sporting a beard, praying, reading the Koran makes you suspect.Muslims know that every word, every gesture, is interpreted within a context of permanent suspicion.[241]

Lhaj Thami Breze, the president of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, one of the country's leading organizations of Muslims, said that expulsions of imams "feed the fear in the Muslim community that it, once again, is being singled out It gives the impression that France is persecuting Muslims."[242]Samy Debah of the nongovernmental Collective against Islamophobia articulated his perspective of "two different regimes" in France with respect to freedom of expression, contrasting the expulsion of imams for things they say and the defense of those who express insulting views on Islam:"When it comes to the Danish cartoons or Redeker, people said, 'I don't agree but I defend your right to say it,' and they tell us [Muslims] we don't have the right to be offended."[243]

The expulsion of imams identified as "hate-preachers" is clearly a counterterrorism measure geared specifically toward preventing violent radicalization and recruitment to terrorism.Here too, though, government arguments often refer to opinions or statements that are "contrary to French values" or that promote separatism and rejection of integration into mainstream society.[244] Azzedine Gaci, the Lyon representative of the Regional Council of the Muslim Creed, acknowledged the legitimate concern with radicalization of young people "who develop hatred and a rejection of the Republic," but he cautioned that,

It has to do with political, social and economic exclusion... There is an increasingly extremist interpretation of Islam in France, by those who take advantage of this exclusion and stigmatization, especially among young people.We are aware of this and willing to work on this, but the state also has to modify its discourse and stop stigmatizing Islam.[245]

He argued that in this context, highly politicized and media-conscious expulsions are counterproductive because,

They instill fear in [Muslim] associations and imams, so much fear that they don't know what they can say in their sermons.The imams do less and less in the mosques, they don't want to deal with young people, so they turn them away, and they can become radicalized.We have to find solutions, but not ones that can lead to radicalization. Expulsions bring more incomprehension, more fear, than a solution to the problem.[246]

Kamel Kabtane agreed that the overall impact of these kinds of measures is deleterious insofar as they send the message that individuals from the Muslim community are not welcome."The more [you adopt] exceptional measures, the more you put people in a situation of exclusion.And the more you radicalize," he said.[247]Commenting on those most directly affected by expulsions, lawyer Mahmoud Hebia concurred: "Expulsions generate families full of hatred [and] make them susceptible to pressure from terrorist groups."[248]

The United Nations special rapporteur on racism, Doudou Diene, noted what he called the "alarming number of expulsions from some European countries in the context of efforts to fight fundamentalism" in a 2004 report on defamation of religions and racism.He drew particular attention to expulsions from France, stating that the emergency expulsions procedure gives too much discretion to authorities in decisions regarding expulsions of imams.[249]

There is a perception among some in French Muslim communities that the broad powers enjoyed by counterterrorism investigating magistrates lead to mass arrests and accusations of associating with terrorism networks based on meager evidence, suggesting that all Muslims are somehow suspect."They tell us to separate plastic and paper for recycling, but they don't distinguish among us [Muslims]," said Dilek D., the wife of a deportee.[250]

This perception is fed by experiences such as that of Tunisian opposition figure Mouldi Gharbi, who was in the apartment of a friend when it was raided by counterterrorism police in 1995.Gharbi recalled that one of the officers called the investigating magistrate who had ordered the raid to ask if he should also detain Gharbi. According to Gharbi, the officer said the magistrate had told him to arrest everyone there.[251]Gharbi was eventually convicted of association de malfaiteurs and sentenced to one year in prison, time he had already served in pretrial detention. Gharbi was granted asylum in 1996, when he was still in pretrial detention.

Official statistics would seem to support the claim that specialized counterterrorism investigating magistrates tend to err on the side of "prevention."Not long ago, then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said that 1,161 people had been detained in the context of the fight against terrorism.Of these, only 462 were placed under official investigation.[252]

Some note that many in the Muslim community are hesitant to speak out on behalf of anyone tarnished with the label "radical" or "Islamist" for fear of being associated with terrorism themselves.Kamel Kabtane told Human Rights Watch that when he protested Abdelkader Bouziane's expulsion, "I was immediately categorized, they said I was becoming radicalized."[253]

[235] International Crisis Group (ICG), "France and its Muslims:Riots, Jihadism and Depoliticisation," Europe Report No. 172, March 9, 2006, http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?1=1&id=4014 (accessed April 10, 2006) (full report only available in French).

[236] Ibid., p. 4.

[237] Human Rights Watch interview with Samy Debah, Collective Against Islamophobia, Paris, June 30, 2006.

[238] Interview with then-Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin, Le Figaro, May 13, 2004.

[239] "The French lesson," The Economist, August 13, 2005.

[240] Stephanie Giry, "France and its Muslims," Foreign Affairs, September/October 2006, http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20050901faessay85508/stephanie-giry/france-and-its-muslims.html (accessed October 17, 2006).

[241] Human Rights Watch interview with Kamel Kabtane, rector, Grand Mosque of Lyon, Lyon, June 23, 2006.

[242] Elaine Ganley, "France targets radical imams in bid to keep terrorism at bay," Associated Press, May 3, 2004.

[243] Human Rights Watch interview with Samy Debah, Collective Against Islamophobia, February 1, 2007.Robert Redeker, a French writer and philosopher, published an opinion piece in French daily newspaper Le Figaro in September 2006 describing the Prophet Muhammad as a "pitiless war leader, pillager, butcher of Jews and polygamous" and calling the Koran a "book of incredible violence."He was subsequently given police protection after receiving death threats.A group of French intellectuals published a defense of Redeker's right to freedom of expression.Human Rights Watch's own position on the Danish cartoons and freedom of speeech is set out at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/02/15/denmar12676.htm.

[244] See for example the notes blanches concerning Abdelkader Bouziane and Abdullah Cam, discussed in Chapter V.

[245] Human Rights Watch interview with Azzedine Gaci, representative of the Regional Council of the Muslim Creed in Rhone Alpes, Lyon, June 26, 2006.

[246] Ibid.

[247] Human Rights Watch interview with Kamel Kabtane, June 23, 2006.

[248] Human Rights Watch interview with Mahmoud Hebia, lawyer, Lyon, June 22, 2006.

[249] UN Commission on Human Rights, "Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, Doudou Diene, Addendum: Defamation of Religions and Global Efforts to Combat Racism: Anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and Islamophobia," E/CN.4/2005/18/Add.4, December 13, 2004, http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G05/102/18/PDF/G0510218.pdf?OpenElement, para. 27.

[250] Human Rights Watch interview with Dilek D., Lyon, June 23, 2006.

[251] Human Rights Watch interview with Mouldi Gharbi, Paris, October 3, 2006.

[252] Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior, at the press conference on June 8, 2006, http://www.interieur.gouv.fr/misill/sections/a_1_interieur/le_ministre/interventions/08-06-2006-evolutions-securite/view (accessed June 15, 2006).

[253] Human Rights Watch interview with Kamel Kabtane, Lyon, June 23, 2006.