Europe Needs to Embrace Islam by Jocelyne Cesari

August 29, 2014

Counter to the common interpretation, the appeal of radical anti-Western groups like ISIS among European Muslims is not driven primarily by socioeconomic deprivation. In fact, three interrelated factors play a more significant role.

The first is the powerful presence of the Salafi version of Islam in the religious market of ideas. This is problematic because even as most Muslims in the West are not Salafis and the majority of Salafis are not jihadists, it happens that groups like Al Qaiada and ISIS have a Salafi background. It means that their theological view comes from a particular interpretation of Islam rooted in Wahhabism, an eighteenth century doctrine adopted by the Saudi kingdom. In the West, Salafis incite people to withdraw from mainstream society, depicted as impure, in order to live by strict rules. These reactionary interpretations do contain similarities with jihadist discourse.

The second factor in the radicalization of Muslim youth is the increase of discriminatory policies vis-à-vis Islamic practices in Europe, including the use of the hijab and regulation of mosque minarets, circumcision and halal food. All contribute to a growing sense among Muslims that they are not accepted as full members of European society. Anti-immigration and anti-Islamic discourse translates into discriminatory practices in employment, housing and political activities. It can be a factor in strengthening a defensive identification within Islam and therefore gives more leverage to any ideology that pits the West against Muslims.

Third, the collapse of all major ideologies in Europe — nationalism, Communism, and liberalism — has left room for new radical options. For some young Europeans, adherence to radical Islam provides a viable alternative ideology, comparable to that of radical leftist groups in the 1970s.

These factors reveal a lack of true integration of Muslims as European policies have prioritized socioeconomic measures. In other words, political efforts are needed to put an end to the ‘ghettoization’ of Islam, which is often depicted as alien and incompatible with Western core liberal values. It means that geopolitical issues like the “war on terror” should be disconnected as much as possible from Islam and its adherents and their practices. Europe, and to a certain extent the U.S., face a major political challenge, which is the inclusion of Islam within their respective national narratives. It is a huge symbolic task, equivalent to the undertaking that led to the integration of the African-American past and legacy into the dominant American narrative.

**Jocelyne Cesari is senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, and director of the Islam in the West Program at Harvard University. She is the author of “Why the West Fears Islam: An Exploration of Muslims in Liberal Democracies” and “The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State.”

Mainstreaming Immigrant Integration Policy in France: Education, Employment, and Social Cohesion Initiatives [PDF download]

Mainstreaming Immigrant Integration Policy in France: Education, Employment, and Social Cohesion Initiatives [PDF download]

Nadine Morano “hurt” by image of a veiled woman at the beach

The former minister of the UMP Nadine Morano has created controversy after posting a picture of a veiled Muslim woman at the beach on her Facebook page. Morano wrote, “There is nothing that threatens public order because the woman’s face was visible in accordance with the law, but it’s an attack on our culture that hurts.” Next to the photograph of the veiled woman, seen from behind, Morano showed the headline of the Figaro Magazine featuring a picture of Brigitte Bardot in a bikini.

Addressing the picture of Bardot, Morano writes: “This image of a Frenchwoman who is proud of her freedom as a woman struck me as a contrast to that of the veiled woman…When choosing to come to France, a state of rights, secular, one must respect our culture and women’s freedom.”

Her comments prompted a statement from the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, which called the post “stigmatizing.” “Is the act of wearing a veil on the beach not respecting the laws of the Republic?” asked Abdallah Zekri, the association’s president. Zekri contended that only the full veil is banned in France.

“It’s always the same one who stands out in the UMP…It would be better for her to deal with what’s happening in her party rather than to stigmatize women who wear the veil,” he added. Zekri is a former UMP member who left the party “after having felt the frequency of hate speech and racism rise.”

Kamel Kabtane denounces the “bastards” in Iraq

Kamel Kabtane,  rector of the Great Mosque of Lyon has made a “clear and precise position” concerning his opinion about the Islamic State of Iraq. The French Council of the Muslim Faith recently released a statement stating, “The CFCM calls on French Muslims to reaffirm their commitment to religious liberty and to respect the beliefs of each human being, wherever they are located.”

However, this statement was not sufficient for Kabtane. “It must be said that the Muslim community is against the massacres of Christians in Iraq,” he said. In Iraq, the Islamic State is persecuting Christians who live in the north of the country. Kabtane believes that “French Muslims would be proud to severely condemn the abominations committed by the executioners in the self-proclaimed Islamic State.” “They are bastards over there…In France, Muslims wish to leave peacefully” he added.

According to the Kabtane, public opinion confuses extremist groups with traditional believers. He stresses that one must not confound “Muslims with all fanatic groups,” and adds that “public opinion is infected with this poison.” Kabtane is known to act autonomously from the French Council of the Muslim Faith.

Muslim engineer’s access to nuclear sites suspended

August 18, 2014

In March 2014 the head of an engineering project, employed by a subcontractor of the EDF, was refused access to nuclear sites at the nuclear center in Nogent-sur-Seine “without any apparent reason” by the city’s prefecture. The 29 year-old engineer had previously received access in 2012 and 2013.

However, in March the prefecture decided otherwise and suspended his access. The action required no justification as a matter of national “defense.” With no explanation given, the lawyers of the Collective Against Islamophobia are attempting to get an answer. “My client was authorized for three years to enter nuclear sites. The big question is: what changed? From one day to the next, he was suspected of I don’t know what,” argued the client’s lawyer Sefen Guez Guez. He does not exclude an act of Islamophobia from the potential list of reasons. “Given the surrounding context, his religious practices were perhaps disturbing,” he added.

In June, Guez Guez brought the complaint to the administrative court of Chalons-en-Champagne which honored the complaint, saying that there was “serious doubt about the decision’s legality.” The judge reinstated the engineer’s access and allowed the man to return to the nuclear sites.

Less than a month later the EDF again denied the plaintiff access and his case returned to court. The decision concerning future access to nuclear sites will be released at the end of August. “My client is confident. He has never made any errors, he’s a future father, he has no criminal record, he has no problems with the company,” affirmed his lawyer.

While waiting for the decision, the engineer can only complete administrative tasks. “He’s in a closet and he wants to return to work as it was before,” said Guez Guez. “It’s like Guantanamo! How can someone lose his job without being able to defend himself, without knowing what’s happening?”

Jihadists, Hamas, the veil: does France have more tension with radical Islam than its neighbors?

August 22, 2014

A comparative survey between England, Germany and France has created controversy due to its results concerning France. When asked about their opinions about Islamists in the Islamic State of Iraq, those who were polled in France expressed a 15% positive opinion, compared with 7% in Britain and 2% in Germany.  Although the religion of those surveyed is not indicated, the survey’s results gave rise to questions surrounding integration, especially in France. It is important to note that the study’s sponsor is Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian press agency. While the Russian media is not particularly interested in the problems of integration in France, question remains about the agency’s motives for conducting the survey. Atlantico conducted an interview with historian Guylain Chevalier and professor Moustafa Traoré.

When asked if England’s method of integration, often lauded as a model for Europe due to its multiculturalist approach, is a success, he answered: “Let us remember that during the terrorist attacks in London, everyone across the Channel was shocked that the terrorists did not come from abroad but were ‘well integrated.’” He stressed that after the attacks, David Cameron saw the English model as a failure. He continued, “The phenomenon of jihadism that is developing in European countries is evidence of an evolution of a part of the Islamic community towards a radical Islam that responds to the goal of Islamic domination based on the model of the Islamic State of Iraq.” In the case of the Islamic State, every person who does not convert to Islam risks death.

Chevalier continued, “One can image what espousing this vision, for certain Muslims tempted by the renewed figure of the ‘warrior for Islam,’ could have as a projected consequence in Western countries in a closed community where things can go adrift.” For this reason, he concluded, “One cannot ask questions in such a context about the efficacy of our models of integration for combating a risk of radicalization in the long term, as it is fed by armed conflicts where Islam is increasingly involved.”

The Atlantico then spoke with Moustafa Traoré, and asked: “From the point of view of integration, the unemployment rate for Muslims, or of mixed marriages, how is France worse than other countries in terms of integration? In contrast, how is it better?” Traoré said that the best way to evaluate an integration system is to speak with those who are primarily concerned. For example, “One cannot evaluate the integration of women in the workplace without making reference to the feelings of the latter.” He stressed the importance of using proper terms when discussing integration, “France, is before anything, an assimilationist country that has the tendency to ask the newly arrived to get rid of their values, their culturally ethnic particularities, so that they can adopt those of France and of the Republic.” He continued, “To speak in France about the process of integration where there does not exist one is an intellectual fault that often reflects dishonesty, or an underlying racism.”

Chevalier points to the failures of England’s multiculturalism as, “A model that is specifically the opposite of France’s, a society that is the quintessential mix of primarily considering individuals as equals before seeing them as part of cultures or religions.” He adds that France has the highest rate of mixed marriages, 27%, of anywhere in Europe. However, he concedes that “It is becoming increasingly difficult to integrate populations that are coming from elsewhere, into an economy of chronic unemployment, where cultural tensions can also be exacerbated by the economic tension.”

Responding to the issue created by Nadine Morano, whose negative comments about a veiled Muslim woman at the beach have sparked controversy, Chevrier states, “It’s certain that her reaction reflects a fear that is growing today,” but notes, “In a number of Muslim countries, women have a minority status that is not completely discriminatory, and which is not without influence on the way a number of Muslims in France practice their faith.” He adds, “The countries of origin of those who decide to wear the veil did not operate on the separation of religion and politics like we do…To follow before anything the values of religious codes, seen as superior to common law, is a form of confinement that breaks with the idea of the common good and of the public interest and favors social and political divisions that could lead to radicalism.”

Traoré said that while he does not have the same point of view as Chevrier, he recognizes that “The reaction of Nadine Morano is understandable, when France has chosen assimilation instead of integration. This supposes that there exists a cultural model of established and rigid values to which the newly arrived must submit to, all the while leaving behind what makes up their ethnic and cultural differences.”

When asked about the tensions that erupted in Stockholm in 2013 and if there is another country that is similar to France in terms of its integration policies, Chevrier stated, “Our model of integration…is without a doubt the best safeguard for our peaceful coexistence in terms of social diversity, no matter what differences may exist.” He concluded, “The Republican model is a wonderful tool for integration…Confronting the danger of radicalism and its current temptations, the feeling of belonging to a national community, to a larger being that puts the public interest ahead of idiosyncrasies, is what’s at stake for peaceful coexistence and more so, a determining element for social peace.”

Report: Mainstreaming Immigrant Integration Policy in France

A recent comparative research project organized by the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and the University of Oxford and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, details the complicated history and current situation of immigrant integration in France. Currently, the government’s immigration initiatives cease after an immigrant has been in France for five years. French law does not allow for statistics to be gathered concerning a person’s ethnicity or religion, and because many children of immigrants are French citizens, it is difficult to assess the efficacy of the current government initiatives.

President Francois Hollande is considering reforms to the country’s integration policies. This comprehensive report discusses immigration trends, and the youth as a key population in integration policies, as well as educational, employment and social cohesion policies.

President Obama on James Foley, and Muslim Victims

August 20, 2014

The men who killed James Foley, the American journalist, belonged to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and claimed to be acting in the name of one of the great monotheistic religions of the world with the goal of establishing a caliphate.

But as Mr. Foley’s brutal beheading made clear,  ISIS, a Sunni Muslim group, practices a perverted, nihilistic version of Islam that does an extreme disservice to millions of Muslims, both Sunnis and Shiites, pursuing more peaceful and purposeful lives.

President Obama, who denounced the murder today from his vacation venue on Martha’s Vineyard, put it well when he said that ISIS “speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day.”

His description of the group’s horrors was unsparing: “They have rampaged across cities and villages killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shi’a, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people,” the Yazidis.

The point that the extremist group’s victims are overwhelmingly Muslim is worth repeating.

But whatever the United States does in the future, ISIS and its extremist brethren will never be defeated if Muslims themselves don’t make it a priority.

In Ferguson, Nation of Islam members push for peace

August 25, 2014

FERGUSON, Mo. — Ever since Michael Brown, a young, unarmed African-American, was shot by a police officer on Aug. 9, various crews have played a part in achieving the tentative peace that has taken hold of the St. Louis suburb once rocked by protests.

Some wear black T-shirts with large white letters that spell out “Peacekeepers.” Others dress in bright orange shirts and call themselves “Clergy United.” All acknowledge that the Nation of Islam has been a key player since the very beginning.

Last week, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who took over the police security patrol in Ferguson, acknowledged on national television that the Nation of Islam and other groups — such as Black Lawyers for Justice — helped control the crowds on West Florissant Avenue. Others on social media pointed out that the Nation of Islam protected businesses from looters.

Yet, many find the Nation of Islam — a Muslim sect that dominated headlines during the civil rights era but has since diminished in prominence — problematic.

In some ways, Nation of Islam members are not unlike other Muslims. They worship Allah and pray five times a day. They also fast during Ramadan and require a pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj. But the Nation of Islam also calls for a separate nation for blacks, according to international representative Akbar Muhammad.

On Sunday (Aug. 24), Minister Louis Farrakhan, the national representative of the Nation of Islam, addressed Brown’s death directly from the religious group’s base in Chicago.

Con Ed Sells Building Near Ground Zero Where Plans for Mosque Caused Uproar

August 21, 2014

Consolidated Edison, which once owned the nuclear reactors at Indian Point, has finally unloaded a property that may have been the source of even more controversy.

The utility company notified state regulators this week that it had sold the site of a proposed Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan that came to be known as the “ground zero mosque.” Con Edison has not used the building since 1969, but the company got caught in the uproar over the proposal when it surfaced nearly five years ago.

By then, Con Edison had been nothing more than the landlord for the building at 49-51 Park Place, about two blocks north of the World Trade Center. It was close enough to the twin towers destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, that a wing flap from one of the crashed jets was found there last year.

That proximity to a place where more than 2,700 people were killed by terrorists set off a national debate about the plan for a mosque and Islamic cultural center on the property. The developer, Soho Properties, eventually abandoned that idea and now plans to build a three-story museum dedicated to Islam on the Con Ed site and a condominium tower on an adjacent lot, 45 Park Place, Roxanne Donovan, a spokeswoman for the developer, said on Wednesday. (The museum would contain a sanctuary for prayer services.)

That plan has been years in the making and it is still not clear if Sharif El-Gamal, the chief executive of Soho Properties, has the financing necessary to move forward. But he cleared one of the hurdles at the end of July, when he bought the Con Edison property for $10.7 million, Ms. Donovan said.

Even that transaction was fraught, though. Soho Properties had been leasing the property until it decided in 2010 to buy it from Con Ed. The utility set the price at $10.7 million, but the developer challenged that valuation in court. After a judge in State Supreme Court in Manhattan confirmed the valuation, the developer appealed.

In a statement issued by Ms. Donovan, Mr. El-Gamal said: “We are pleased to have concluded a complex acquisition from Con Edison allowing us to complete the assemblage for our upcoming developments at Park Place. This further exemplifies our strength as a buyer of real estate from institutional sellers.”

The latest proposal for the Con Ed site, disclosed in late April, called for a “museum and sanctuary space” designed by the architect Jean Nouvel and “dedicated to exploring the faith of Islam and its arts and culture.”

At the time, Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for Mr. El-Gamal, said the developer was not anticipating an outcry similar to the one that erupted over his plan for a much larger Islamic community center and prayer space.