Leading French body wants ‘license to preach’ for imams

France’s leading Muslim body said on Tuesday it would create a permit to preach for imams in a bid to root out extremists, as well as a new religious body to fight back against jihadist propaganda.

Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM), said the country’s imams should be given a certificate – “like a driving license” – that ensured they promoted a “tolerant and open Islam”. The move comes 11 days after the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, amid increasing fears about homegrown Islamist extremists radicalized by rogue preachers.

There were at least four Frenchmen among the gunmen who carried out the attacks, claimed by the Islamic State group.

The CFCM said it would hand out the permits by testing theological knowledge and adherence to French principles, and make them sign an “imams’ charter” in which they agreed to “respect the laws of the Republic”.

At this stage it does not appear that the permits will be compulsory – particularly as the CFCM, set up at the instigation of the authorities around a decade ago, does not represent every mosque and prayer hall in France, which is home to around five million Muslims.

But Kbibech said that while withdrawing the permit from an imam might not stop him preaching, it would make mosques face up to their responsibilities about who they hired.

“The time for action has come. The Muslims of France will play their part,” said Kbibech, reiterating his “absolute condemnation” of those who turn to violence, saying they would “never have the support of France’s Muslims”.

He also said the CFCM would set up a “religious council” to use theological arguments to defeat “every argument used by terrorist and jihadist organizations to recruit our young people”.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve underlined the “government’s willingness to do everything” to stop “hate preachers” spreading their message.

Speaking out in France at Friday prayers

One week after jihadists from Islamic State massacred 130 people in Paris, the French Council of the Muslim Faith took the unprecedented step of asking imams in 2,300 French mosques to read a text at Friday prayers condemning the attacks. An estimated one million Muslims attend Friday prayers in France.

“We must never weary of saying loud and clear that authentic Islam is light years away from the ideology of hatred of these criminal terrorists,” said the text, which also insisted that the real meaning of jihad is the struggle within one’s soul, that life is sacred and that “known and recognised” experts must interpret the Koran.

After the attacks at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher last January, “voices rose to say that Muslims had not expressed themselves sufficiently”, said Anouar Kbibech, the president of the council. “There are still intolerable suspicions in public opinion.”

The fragmentation of the Muslim establishment is one reason why it is so little heard. At least two other Muslim groups, the Union of French Mosques and the National Federation of French Muslims, also drew up texts to be read at Friday prayers. Because mosques are funded by foreign governments, their imams tend to be loyal to Riyadh, Cairo, Algiers or Rabat.

“We have not succeeded in organising ourselves,” Hakim El Karoui, a former government adviser, wrote in Le Monde. “Because of endless division, the weight of the countries of origin, oversize egos and political calculations, French Islam lies fallow.”

One form of Islam is expanding rapidly. Young but ultra-conservative imams who post their sermons on YouTube have been compared to Protestant televangelists in the US.

Rachid Abou Houdeyfa (35), the imam of Brest, has 175,000 Facebook followers. He created a scandal this autumn, prior to the Paris killings, with a video where he preaches to children that listening to music is Haram (sinful) and that “those who like music are those who would like to be transformed into monkeys and pigs . . . Music is the incantation of fornication, the voice of shaytan [the devil].”

One cannot help noticing the similarity to Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the massacre, referring to the Bataclan concert hall “where hundreds of idolaters were gathered in a feast of perversity”.

In a video, Abou Houdeyfa condemned the November 13th attacks as “barbarian acts that do not represent Islam”.

French officials and intellectuals want Muslims to condemn acts of terrorism. Gilles Clavreul the government’s “interministerial delegate for the fight against racism and anti-Semitism” this week retweeted an article that said “the failure to denounce a terrorist act contradicts the fundaments of Islam”.

It may be a meaningless exercise. Fabien Clain, the French convert to Islam who recorded Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the Paris attacks, had corresponded with the 2012 “scooter killer” Mohamed Merah. Yet Clain condemned Merah’s crimes and claimed he’d barely known him.

L’Obs Magazine published an indepth investigation into the YouTube imams this week. Nader Abou Anas, the imam of Le Bourget mosque, has said “the best wife is the one who obeys her husband’s orders . . . The wife must make herself beautiful for her husband . . . The problem with the sisters [is that] often they try hard for the first months. Six months later, it’s Dracula.”

Mehdi Kabir, the imam of Villetaneuse, says: “Those who eat pork tend to behave like pigs. Those who eat pork are among the dirtiest people.”

But is such idiocy a step on the path to jihadism? Dounia Bouzar, a researcher who specialises in “detoxifying” French youths who have been radicalised, says it is. “When I go through their [internet] navigation histories, I find the videos of these imams,” she says. “The young want guides. They think they’re resisting their parents, society, capitalism. These gurus invite them to flee the real world. That’s how it starts . . . ”

French officials say some 100 of the country’s 2,300 mosques are “radical”. Two days after the attacks, the interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve promised to close them down, a longstanding demand of National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

But much as the sermons of the YouTube imams outrage secular French people, it’s quite a stretch to accuse them of inciting armed demonstrations in the streets, attacking the republican form of government or provoking acts of terrorism – legal conditions for shutting down an association.

In the meantime, France’s Muslim community, the largest in Europe, fear being conflated with terrrorists, and falling victims to jihadist attacks. Three women wearing headscarves were aggressed in Paris and Marseille this week.

The “Mosque of Fraternity” in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers issued a communique claiming police caused thousands of euro in damage when they broke doors and windows, overturned furniture, threw religious books to the floor, tore out computers and damaged false ceilings in a search during the night of November 16th-17th.

Mohammed Chirani declares ‘jihad’ against Daech

A French Muslim who created headlines when he went on national television in France to declare jihad on Islamic State (IS) extremists says he is not deterred by the death threats he has received since.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, Mohammed Chirani, a specialist in religious radicalization, delivered an impassioned speech telling IS that Allah would not protect them.

“Know that our dead, the innocent French citizens, are in paradise,” he said.

“And your dead, the terrorists, are in hell.”

Holding up a copy of the Koran and his French passport, he said he would use both to wage jihad against the extremists.

“I’d like to say we’ll wage jihad against you with the Koran,” he said. “I’d like to tell the traitors who deceived France, betrayed their country and burned their IDs, that we are kissing our documents.”

His address received national acclaim in France, but he also received death threats from Islamic State.

Chirani told Lateline that he was not worried

“I believe in God. Until I achieve my destiny I will not leave this life I am sure of that,” he said. “I lived in Nigeria during the civil war from nine to 19 and I was prepared all my life for this confrontation against fanatics. So I am not surprised and I am ready.”

France called for ‘enlightened Islam’ against jihadist ideology

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve urged French Muslim leaders on Sunday to develop an “enlightened Islam” to confront what he called the obscurantist views of Islamic State that lead young Muslims into violence.

At their first meeting since the Nov. 13 killings of 130 people, he told about 400 Muslim leaders, imams and activists that France would do everything it could to track criminals, but only they could win the battle of ideas within Islam.

The unusual meeting of 10 Muslim federations and five grand mosques was arranged to “cry loud and clear our condemnation of these acts,” Anouar Kbibech, head of France’s Muslim Council (CFCM), said of the massacre in Paris by mostly French and Belgian recruits to the Syrian-based Islamic State movement.

It swore allegiance to France and ended with the French national anthem, La Marseillaise. France’s five-million-strong Muslim minority, Europe’s largest, makes up about 8 percent of the population. Two-thirds of them are French citizens. Cazeneuve, whose portfolio includes religious affairs, recalled Islam’s “Golden Age” of prominent philosophers and cooperation among religions, which was a far cry from what he called the perverted Islam of today’s jihadists.

“It is your responsibility to revive this enlightened Islam to denounce the spiritual duplicity of the terrorists and those who follow them,” he told the meeting.

“You are the most legitimate and qualified to fight these deadly ideas … we must protect our youth from the spread of this stupidity,” he said. “Just think what effect this progressive Islam would have on the rest of Islam in the world.”

France is home to many Muslim intellectuals who write long treatises about reforming Islam to make it fit better into western society. Most have only faint resonance among practicing Muslims here or in the Muslim world.

Since the late 1980s, successive Paris governments have tried but failed to nurture a liberal “Islam of France” that would help integrate the faith into this mostly secular society.

The French Muslim community, torn apart by ethnic divisions and power politics, has for its part failed to unite to oppose radical Salafist groups that have established their presence in some mosques and neighborhoods as well as on the Internet.

Recently elected as CFCM president, Kbibech brought together the often rival federations and grand mosques to pledge to do more to train imams, fight radicalization and educate young Muslims in the principles of Islam.

“After the time for emotion, for condemnation and compassion, now is the time for action,” he said. “French Muslims are ready to play their part … to understand and prevent the drift of some of our youths into violence.”

Islam played a part in this radicalization, even if only as a source for religious pretexts misused to justify violence, he said, but many political, economic and social factors also pushed young Muslims to extremism.

“We are witnessing an Islamization of their radicalism, not a radicalization of Islam,” he said, citing a recent analysis by Olivier Roy, a leading French academic expert on Islam.

Cazeneuve, who announced a meeting with Muslim leaders about radicalization for early January, said French Muslims should develop a “Gallican Islam, that keeps abreast of modern society’s concerns and resolves issues that (Islam) never had to resolve in its societies of origin.”

Salafist Islam, the puritan literalist interpretation of the faith that is the basis for Islamic State’s violent ideology, says Muslims must return to the practices of early Islam in the seventh century and shun many aspects of modern western life.

Cazeneuve said Paris would continue cracking down on what he called obscurantism and told the meeting that two mosques had been shut down and about 20 more searched since Paris decreed emergency powers to allow it to track down militants.

He praised the meeting for its unequivocal denunciation of extremism and allegiance to France and its values, calling a statement it passed “a declaration of love for the republic and for France.”

Religious leaders in Rhône-Alpes gather to fight radical Islam

The State, mayors in the Rhône-Alpes, and local religious leaders have set a goal to curb radicalization of young Muslims in the region, introducing 10 propositions. These include: opening the mosque to women, lessening financial burdens, mentoring Arab language schools, reinforcing interreligious dialogue, creating a regional council of Muslims.

These goals are intended to “clarify” the roles of several institutions, such as mosques that are often accused of harboring foreign salafi imams. “We must help each other” because “today it’s important that associations and mayors work together,” declared Abdelkader Laïd Bendidi, president of the Regional Council of the Muslims Faith (CRCM).

These “extremely realistic and constructive measures were unanimously supported by religious leaders, mosques, mayors, and state representatives, and I will make every effort to support them,” said prefect Michel Delpuech.

Marine Le Pen acquitted of inciting hatred

National Front leader Marine le Pen has been acquitted of charges of inciting hatred on the December 2010 campaign trail in Lyon, France.

The charges relate to her comments comparing Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France in World War Two. In October Ms Le Pen told a court in Lyon she did not commit any offence. Prosecutors said she had exercised her right to free speech and was not referring to all Muslims.

She was charged in July 2014 after her immunity as a member of the European Parliament was lifted following a vote requested by French authorities.

In her 2010 speech to far-right National Front supporters, broadcast by French media, she said that France had initially seen “more and more veils,” then “more and more burkhas” and “after that came prayers in the streets.”

She said: :I’m sorry, but some people are very fond of talking about World War Two and about the occupation, so let’s talk about occupation, because that is what is happening here… There are no tanks, no soldiers, but it is still an occupation, and it weighs on people.”

The case was originally dropped last year by the Lyon court of appeal but was revived by anti-racism groups who made a civil complaint.

The ruling came after Ms Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Front party gained a record number of votes in regional elections.

It led in six of the 13 regions after the first round of voting, though due to tactical voting it did not go on to win any regions in the second round.

The party received 6.8 million votes in the second round, amounting to a 27.36% share of the vote.

“Nothing can stop us now,” Ms Le Pen told supporters after the result announcement.

“By tripling our number of councilors, we will be the main opposition force in most of the regions of France.”

Trump ignores UK critics and claims country has ‘a massive Muslim problem’

Donald Trump has continued to hit back against UK critics of his stand against Islam, saying Britain had “a massive Muslim problem”.

After prompting outrage with his claims about race relations in the UK, Trump tweeted on Thursday night that more Muslims joined Islamic State than signed up for the British army.

“In Britain, more Muslims join ISIS than join the British army,” he said in the tweet, drawing on an article about Isis in the National Review which in turn quoted from a Times news report from August 2014.

On Wednesday, Trump attracted a political backlash in Britain when he claimed there were parts of London so radicalised that police officers feared for their lives. The comments were rejected by Downing Street, which said they were “totally inaccurate”, and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who said they were “utter nonsense”.

The Scottish government has dropped Trump from his role as a business ambassador, and Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen has stripped him of his honorary degree.

The petition become the most popular ever campaign on the UK government’s website on Thursday, beating the previous record of 446,482.

Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, a eurosceptic, anti-immigration party, has described Trump’s call to ban Muslims from the US as a “political mistake too far”. But Hopkins said of UKIP in her Fox interview: “60% of their membership are right behind Donald Trump as well.”

Piers Morgan and Ann Coulter in fiery exchange on Good Morning Britain

Right-wing American pundit Ann Coulter was involved in a heated battle of words with host Piers Morgan when she appeared as a guest on today’s episode of Good Morning Britain. Coulter, an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, has in recent days has been criticised after cheering Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the US. On Twitter, where she has more than 700,000 followers, she described Trump’s anti-Muslim stance as ‘my best birthday gift.’

Appearing via satellite link on Good Morning Britain with hosts Morgan and Susanna Reid, Coulter vigorously defended her views while also suggesting that mentally ill people and criminals should be prevented from entering the US: “Why does our country need them? … Welfare is for Americans.”

Morgan appeared increasingly incensed as the interview progressed, before eventually cutting her off with the suggestion: “Maybe it would be slightly more helpful to deport you Ann Coulter?” Viewers of Twitter were largely supportive of Morgan.

‘You just hide the bag with money’

Recent research from Tilburg University stresses the importance of the common background between Moroccan jihadists in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. On Facebook they sympathize with each other, says researcher Claudia Lemos de Carvalho. She speaks of an “e-jihad ‘. There are bands of Moroccan networks with IS. “North Africa, especially Morocco networks have members with a high profile within the IS hierarchy,” said De Carvalho. “Dutch, French and Belgian jihadists have a common characteristic, their Maghreb background. Which gives them identity, strengthens mutual sympathy which binds them both online and offline.