French documentary on salafists gets ’18 and over’ rating

January 27, 2016

A documentary on radical Islam has struck a nerve in France two-and-a-half months after a devastating jihadist attack in Paris and sparked a debate about freedom of expression.

The documentary “Salafists” opened on Wednesday in only five cinemas in France, and its portrayal of bloody images of Islamist propaganda has seen its directors accused of “flirting with advocating terrorism.”

Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin took the advice of the national commission to bar under-18s from seeing the film, a rare move for a documentary. She said her decision was the result of the documentary makers “broadcasting scenes and talk of extreme violence without commentary.”

The run-up to the classification decision was accompanied by days of debate in France over the threat of the film being seen as condoning terrorism, or whether limiting audiences amounted to an attack on freedom of expression.

French director and writer Claude Lanzmann wrote on Le Monde’s website that the decision was “deaf, blind and stubborn” and amounted to “shameful censorship.” The controversy headlined the front page of the right-leaning Le Figaro newspaper which said the film was “violent and ambiguous and flirts with advocating terrorism.”

The documentary mostly focuses on extremism in the Sahel region of north Africa and was filmed in Mali, Tunisia, Mauritania and Algeria between 2012 and 2015.

It gives voice to leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and religious leaders belonging to the Salafist movement — fundamentalists who believe in the return to what is considered a purer form of Islam.

The film shows daily life under Sharia law (Islamic law) in the northern Mali cities of Gao and Timbuktu which fell under the control of jihadists in 2012, and is interspersed with images of Islamic State group propaganda and videos, some of which are extremely violent. The directors, Francois Margolin and Mauritanian journalist Lemine Ould Salem, have said they wanted to show the jihadists’ discourse in parallel with the reality of their acts.

“Our aim was to show the Salafists from the inside,” Margolin told AFP in December, saying the minority school of thought was increasingly influential and a gateway to becoming a jihadist.

However, an editorialist in Le Figaro said the film missed its mark “and ends up bringing together what it intends to fight — Salafist propaganda.”

The documentary also controversially included explicit footage of the murder of policeman Ahmed Merabet by the Kouachi brothers Said and Cherif as they fled from their attack on the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.

The filmmakers removed the images of the jihadists shooting Merabet as he lay in the street, on his family’s request.

France has grappled with the issue of freedom of expression ever since the attack on Charlie Hebdo — long a target of Islamists for its depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.

The director Lanzmann, who made the 1985 Holocaust film Shoah, described “Salafists” as “ genuine masterpiece, illuminating daily life under Sharia law in a way that no book or ‘expert’ of Islam, ever has.”

Film critic Jean-Michel Frodon wrote on the French version of the Slate website that the film “gives a voice to the ‘enemy’. But giving him a voice, is to know him better.”

Islamic Theology: Turning over a new page

Theology and paedagogy can offer young Muslims a better alternative to the hate preachers operating on the sidelines of the faith. By Harry Harun Behr

In 2010, the German Council of Science and Humanities recommended introducing the subject of Islamic theology to German universities. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research recently decided to continue the funding. How is this relatively young subject faring today?

Theology entails academic research into the fundamentals of religion. It serves a clarifying function, and this makes the subject interesting. German Islamic theology is not only appealing to Muslim intellectuals from the nations between Casablanca and Surabaya. Under the heading “Dialogue with the Islamic world” it is also integral to foreign cultural policy.

Take an example from Tunisia. Last year, social scientists gathered for a conference in Sousse. They discussed Islam and politics in the countries affected by the Arab Spring movements, which had in the meantime yielded so many disappointing outcomes. I was asked to speak about how religious, pedagogical and political-scientific theories arise. Verses of the Koran describe how emotional and social motives can be skewed in conflicts. The interesting point here is that the question of faith itself is secondary. Expertise, pragmatism and questions of religious epistemology take precedence.

No Islamisation of the secular constitution

With respect to the constitutional discourse taking place in Arab nations, participants reached a consensus: there should be no Islamisation of the secular constitution; sharia should be seen, in the literal theological sense, as standard Islamic guidelines and methodology; the code needs to be re-formulated in accordance with democratic, civil society and constitutional standards.

Firstly, the Koran’s discourse on humanity, the world and God has a cultural-historical predetermined breaking point: sacred texts divulge how religion and law were negotiated at the time of their emergence and elsewhere. But the Koran is also grounded in a third domain, which lies between the religious and the secular: in the non-negotiable human norms of the moral good. This is where the timeless dimension of the Koran is unfolds. From a historical point of view, it is both the outcome and the starting point of theology.

This ushers in an anthropological turning point in Islamic theology, which should not be seen as a renunciation of the religious traditions of Islam, but as a shift in the controls: less traditionalism, a greater understanding of the situations in which people live, less bondage to the collective, strengthening of the individual, away from Islam as a particular system and closer to Islam as a resource that enriches life.

More courage to focus on intellect and reason

The intention is to mobilise the ethical substance of Islam within the universal perspective. This also involves how the Koran is applied. Where the early Koranic commentator at-Tabari was still searching for clear meaning in the 9thcentury, the Persian Fachruddin ar-Razi was asking about the intention of the interpreter some 300 years later.

This marked an initial move away from the surface of the Koran into the depth of its meaning. Today the focus should be on citing the Koran in its own informative tradition. Having greater courage to focus on intellect and reason is the right way to respond to apotheosis of the document. Incidentally, there is nothing significant on this in the Koran, which describes Muhammad as “the entirety of the oration” (jawami’ al-quran).

Consequently, Islamic theology should give orientation. With its introduction to the canon of university disciplines comes a cultural-political expectation: its translation into existing cultural codes and its involvement in the public discourse on overall concepts. These may currently seen to be flaring up owing to the events of New Year’s Eve in Cologne.

The latter leads on us to the question of what has to happen in the biography of a man for him to only experience sexual arousal in the context of violence. Such behaviour is associated with totalitarian structures in which ethical and moral codes are perverted to enforce assimilation. The fragmentation of physical and emotional identities this produces is thus also a problem for political systems in which Islam is used to legitimise injustice.

With this in mind, Islamic theology is continually required to grapple with phenomena that are not a result of Islamic traditions, but arguably of Muslim living environments. The romantic fantasies of girls, who glorify the IS terror militia among other reasons because it appears to them to be the best way to liberate themselves from patriarchal submission is another issue.

From a material to a functional understanding of religion

Herein lies one of the missions of Islamic religious tuition. It does not help to make young Muslims believe that all these terrible things have nothing to do with Islam, that God is actually really nice and Muhammad is an Arab Father Christmas. Some things are so wrong that not even the converse is right. Positive discriminatory constructions are rejected by Muslim students just as much as negative ones.

Hiding behind shrill contradictions helps just as little as token Muslims at flashy conferences, because this only serves to fuel the loss of normality. Spiritual vulnerability drives many Muslim youngsters to make themselves experts on Islam even if they are not at all religious. They look for answers and want neither sermons nor soapboxes.

To cite a concrete example: the new core curricula in the state of Hessen for secondary level Islamic studies are courageous in this regard. They gently shift the controls from the material to the functional understanding of religion, because the focus is not on the special features of a religion, but on religious learning as intellectual agility in aesthetic, spiritual and analytical matters.

That this is happening with the blessing of two notoriously conservative Islamic communities is only baffling upon first glance: Hessen is thus far the only federal state to have granted them religious community status.

They now need to grow into the shoes in which they find themselves put. And as a result they are looking to academic theology for assistance. In this respect, the ministry’s strategy has paid off. It is time, with the help of Islamic theology and pedagogy, to offer the better alternative to that which claims from the sidelines to be the true Islam. Only then is faith in the universal sociological standard justified – that nonsense will not prevail.

Harry Harun Behr

© Sueddeutsche Zeitung 2016

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

60% of French oppose Muslim refugees

January 27, 2016

Atlantico: What can we take away from this poll; in what context was it carried out?

Jérôme Fourquet : We see that the state of opinion regarding the question of welcoming refugees in France has remained stable, compared with a previous poll carried out the week after the Paris attacks.

Since April there have been three distinct periods regarding public opinion: one at the end of summer 2015, where we saw public opinion was largely against allowing refugees, as the issue began to gain attention in the media and as it began to be hotly debated in Europe. During this period only a third of Frenchmen were supportive of allowing them. A second period began the week after the photos of Aylan were published, causing a marked swing in public opinion, with one-in-two Frenchmen reacting favorably to allowing refugees. Even after the intense emotional shock the picture generated the other half remained opposed.

Public opinion remained stable for around two months, until the November 2015 attacks, with the discovery of two Syrian passports on the suicide bombers in the Stade de France. The attacks added fuel to the fire of those who were worried of possible terrorists coming arriving with the refugees. Public opinion dropped to the levels before Aylan’s photos were released.

Several days ago we reevaluated the situation two months after the November attacks. Investigations showed that there were border security issues and possible jihadist infiltration. After findings were released, and following the events in Cologne, we learned that the Goutte d’or attacker lived in a refugee camp in Germany, and that that he travelled to several European countries where he committed crimes in each.

Today 60% of respondents are opposed to welcoming refugees.

Atlantico: Do you see differences in opinion among different populations in France?

Fourquet: There is certainly a second level to the analysis: how public opinion differs among respondents according to population demographics. There is certainly a political divide, with 6-in-10 Left Front respondents favorable to welcoming refugees, while 7-in-10 Socialist Party supporters would welcome refugees. In contrast, there is a perfect and absolute asymmetry among supporters for the Republicans Party and Socialist Party: 71%-29% against and for in the Republicans Party compared with 29%-71% against and for in the Socialist Party. Right-wing supporters are extremely opposed. This may be due to recent comments made by Juppé.

The National Front was completely opposed.

Finally, one interesting point to note: we know that Catholics generally support welcoming refugees. However our practicing Catholics are divided on the question: 47% for and 53% against, percentages that have remained stable since September. Non- practicing Catholics are mostly hostile (67% opposed). The 54% of practicing non-Catholics is mostly made up of Protestants and Muslims and is the largest population to welcome them.

Link to Poll: Ifop migrants poll

Conferences of Muslims in France to meet in March

February 3, 2016

A national conference of Muslims of France will be held next March in Lyon, according to the Great Mosque of Paris.

The decision to hold the conference was made during a working meeting in Paris chaired by the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubaker and President of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF) Amar Lasfar.

“In continuation of their coordination on major issues of Islam in France, the two sides agreed to organize a national congress of Muslims of France in Lyon in March,” the source said.

The two sides called on all Muslim organizations and associations to join this initiative which “became urgent against the current vacuum in the expression of Muslims of France in the context of anxiety experienced by France.”

The objective of this conference, highlight the two parties, is to “confirm citizen expression, peaceful and responsible for the Muslim community, to protect young people from all extremist or radical temptation and deliver a message of peace and hope to all of our citizens.”

They also agreed to continue work “already underway” on the agreement of the prayer calendar, fixing the dates of the month of Ramadan and religious holidays, with the forthcoming establishment of a joint theological commission between the two respective institutes for training imams.

A national conference of imams will be held at the end of the year, says the same source.

Muslim butcher shop and restaurant hit with machine gun fire in Corsica

February 3, 2016

The shop front of a Muslim butchers on the French island of Corsica was sprayed by machine gun fire on Tuesday night, as communal tensions on the island remained high. No one was injured in the shooting, which occurred at night while the shop in the southern town of Popriano was closed, according to reports.

The shop that stands in the town centre was hit “by fire from heavy weaponry” the local prosecutor Eric Bouillard said. According to I-Tele there were around 30 bullet holes in the in the shop front.

The prosecutor believes an assault rifle was likely used in the attack and added the Muslim butcher who owned the shop had “no history” to explain why he was attacked.

There were also reports that a kebab outlet nearby was also hit by the gunfire.

Police have no indication who was behind the shooting, but it comes after communal tensions on the island between north African immigrants and locals flared in recent months.

The island was rocked by anti-Arab riots over Christmas after firefighters and police officers were ambushed and attacked on Christmas in a neighbourhood mostly home to north African immigrants. Demonstrators shouting slogans such as “This is our home!” and “Arabs get out”, vandalized a Muslim prayer room and set fire to books, including copies of the Quran.

Six people have been charged in connection with that unrest.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls wrote on Twitter that the break-in was “an unacceptable desecration”, while also condemning the “intolerable attack” on the firefighters.

The island’s administrator Christophe Mirmand said “This behavior must stop. It hurts Corsica’s image.”

Corsica is known as the “Isle of Beauty” for its turquoise waters and picturesque mountains. Its population increases by tenfold during peak tourist season.

Six suspects arrested in Lyon, planned to carry out attacks in sex clubs and join ISIS

February 2, 2016

France’s anti-terror police have arrested six people who allegedly planned to attack sex clubs and leave for Syria.

The group of five men and a woman, who had already bought bus tickets to join Daesh in Syria via Bulgaria and Turkey, were arrested outside the French city of Lyon.

At least two of them were planning to obtain weapons to attack French nightspots and then leave Syria-bound after 8 February, according to French security forces.

The suspects had converted to Islam and were in the radar of French intelligence for extremist views.

French authorities said the suspects were known for ‘active proselytism, their allegiance to Daesh, or their calls for Jihad’.

European extremists with the Islamic State group returned to France to carry out the Nov. 13 attacks that left 130 dead in Paris, most at a rock show and bars and restaurants.

ISIS has called on followers to launch attacks in France and the rest of Europe.

Specific approach necessary for young women traveling to ISIS

February 4, 2015

The motives of girls and young women to travel to ISIS in Syria differ from the motives of young men. It is therefore a good idea to develop a different approach to prevent these young women to leave. Involve the parents actively with these interventions. Work on the defensibility of these women and bring into view who have influence on them. These are the most important conclusions and recommendations from the publication “women ISIS-goers: why do they go?” of the Knowledge Platform Integration & Society.

The publication was written by Sahar Noor. Her findings were based on an extensive literature research and several interviews with experts. With men financial reasons, status, obtaining power and a position as a fighter can be important motivations. With women the image of a romantic adventure play a role. In addition this choice is also a form of freedom of choosing a partner and does this step have an emancipating effect: they distance themselves from their parents and choose their own partner.

Since 2012 approximately sixty girls and young women have left the Netherlands to join ISIS in Syria.

To read more about the research follow this link: