Ankara’s long arm? German DİTİB branch embroiled in a spying affair targeting Gülenists

A deteriorating relationship

In recent months, the relationship between German authorities and DİTİB, the country’s largest and Turkish-dominated Muslim association, has taken a severe drubbing.

For close to three decades, DİTİB used to be the German government’s preferred cooperation partner in Islamic religious affairs: outsourcing the religious needs of the country’s Muslim population to DİTİB, a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), was a convenient way to ensure that a quietist albeit conservative Islamicality was propagated in DİTİB’s 1,000 mosques in Germany.

Yet especially since the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, DİTİB has fallen out of favour. As diplomatic relations between Germany and the Erdoğan government have soured, German politicians have been accusing DİTİB of being a pawn of the Turkish government. As a result, calls have been voiced demanding an end to the cooperation with DİTİB in areas such as Islamic religious education for Muslim youth attending public schools.

DİTİB’s role in the anti-Gülenist crackdown

DİTİB’s German critics have now received ample new ammunition in their fight. The press has analysed DİTİB’s bylaws, pointing to the extensive prerogatives enjoyed by Turkish government representatives, especially with regards to personnel choices.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/satzung-des-islamverbands-ditib-tuerkische-funktionaere.886.de.html?dram:article_id=375487 ))

Even more momentously, however, DİTİB has been embroiled in a spying affair targeting suspected sympathisers of the Gülenist hizmet movement. The Turkish government holds the Gülen responsible for orchestrating July’s coup attempt. Some of DİTİB’s Imams have apparently followed an order by Diyanet to gather information on Gülen supporters in their localities, passing on their findings to Turkish authorities.

DİTİB had already been scrutinised for its role in anti-Gülenist agitation in the immediate aftermath of the attempted putsch. Back then, flyers defaming Gülenists as “traitors of the fatherland” had been put up in a DİTİB mosque. At the time, the backlash faced by DİTİB prompted the association to vow greater independence from the Turkish government.

Reports sent back to Ankara

Such independence, however, appears difficult to attain for DİTİB. In September 2016, Diyanet “urgently requested” Turkish consulates abroad to collect information on the Gülen organisation and its schools, housing units, NGOs, or cultural associations.

Some of DİTİB’s Imams appear to have followed up on these orders: at least three clerics from Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Lower Saxony compiled reports on suspected Gülenist activities in their regions and sent them back to Ankara.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Basing himself on the content of these reports, Green Party politician Volker Beck has now filed a lawsuit against DİTİB with the Federal Prosecutor, accusing DİTİB of having illegally spied on supposed Gülenists living in Germany.

DİTİB’s shifting reaction to the allegations

DİTİB initially denied the spying accusations as “remote from reality” and as the product of a “manipulative and untrue” anti-DİTİB campaign.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2016/12/15/ditib-imame-unter-verdacht/ )) Subsequently, however, the secretary general of DİTİB in Germany, Bekir Alboğa, conceded that some DİTİB Imams had collected and passed on information.

Alboğa stressed, however, that this was not a systematic policy but the result of the “misguided” action of a few Imams only. He asserted that DİTİB “deeply regrets this mishap”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/ditib-bedauert-spitzel-affaere-aid-1.6528628 ))

In a follow-up statement on DİTİB’s website, Alboğa then denied that his statements constituted an admission of “spying”. He asserted that his organisation was “continuing to strive for a transparent resolution” of the case.(( http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=560&lang=de ))

Defending DİTİB

Other voices from the Muslim and Turkish community have also commented these developments. When the spying accusations were first made public in December 2016, the secretary general of the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), Bekir Altaş, came to DİTİB’s defence, asserting that DİTİB’s Imams “deserved respect and recognition”.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2016/12/15/ditib-imame-unter-verdacht/ ))

The chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), Gökay Sofuoğlu, demanded that potential spying activities be investigated. Yet he also asserted that DİTİB was made up of “many people and a large number of officials” seeking to change the organisation’s structures for the better. Not all of them ought to be tarred with the same brush, or so Sofuoğlu asserted.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Political ramifications

The Federal Prosecutor himself has been slow to act upon the lawsuit brought against DİTİB. This has sparked the anger of Beck and others, who accuse the Prosecutor of pandering to political interests.

In their view, delaying investigations into DİTİB’s activities might be a means to prevent further damage to German-Turkish relations – relations particularly salient in a context where German politicians depend on President Erdoğan for sealing the border to Europe in order to stem the flow migrants.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Indeed, political decision-makers themselves have not dramatically altered their stance vis-à-vis DİTİB. The North-Rhine Westphalian (NRW) state government, for instance, long at the forefront of a more ambitious cooperation between German authorities and DİTİB, expressed its will to continue its work with DİTİB in spite of the spying affair.(( http://www.taz.de/Islamverband-entschuldigt-sich/!5371091/ ))

Erosion of legitimacy of Muslim associations

Nevertheless, even the NRW government announced the formation of a commission of inquiry into DİTİB’s linkages with the Turkish state. And NRW’s Minister President, Hannelore Kraft, also rejected DİTİB’s ambitions to be formally recognised as a religious community or a corporation of public law.(( http://www.taz.de/Islamverband-entschuldigt-sich/!5371091/ ))

Many Christian churches as well as other religious bodies are holders of these formal legal titles, which confer a host of financial, social, and political benefits set to facilitate the religious life of these communities.

Despite being the country’s second-largest faith group, Muslims have so far not been able to obtain such recognition, with the exception of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in the state of Hesse. DİTİB’s embroilment in the anti-Gülenist spying affair further erodes the legitimacy of Germany’s Islamic associations and thus hampers the ability of German Muslims to attain legal parity within the country’s legal framework.

Comparing Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The State of the Field

An article by Farid Hafez, University of Salzburg, published in ISLAMOPHOBIA STUDIES JOURNAL VOLUME 3, NO. 2, Spring 2016, PP. 16-34.

ABSTRACT
In the European public discourse on Islamophobia, comparisons of antiSemitism and Islamophobia have provoked heated debates. The academic discourse has also touched on this issue, an example being the works of Edward Said, where he alludes to connections between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Following the 2003 publication of the Islamophobia report produced by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), which discusses the similarities between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, scholars in various fields began a debate that compares and contrasts anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Participants in this debate include Matti Bunzl, Brian Klug, Sabine Schiffer, Nasar Meer, Wolfgang Benz, and many others. To some degree, the academias of the German- and English-speaking worlds have conducted this discourse separately. This paper surveys, to a degree, the state of the field of the comparative approach to studying Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as a pair, and also presents some central topoi and associated questions. It aims to highlight primary insights that have been gained from such a comparison, including how this comparison has been discussed and criticized, and what similarities and differences have been identified on which levels. It questions which epistemological assumptions were made in taking such a comparative approach, and which political discourses—especially regarding the Holocaust and the conflict in Israel/Palestine (which are not part of this discussion)—have shaped this debate in many forums, including academia. Furthermore, this paper discusses which possible aspects of comparative research on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have not yet been explored, and where there could perhaps lay more possibilities for further investigation.

Read more
Hafez, Farid. “Comparing Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The State of the Field.” Islamophobia Studies Journal, Volume 3, No. 2 (Spring 2016): 16-34.

 

Sexual violence, criminality, and immigration: Germany discusses how to report on immigrants’ criminal offences

With the Berlin Christmas market attack, security questions have become dominant on the German political scene. Especially the domain of immigration law is becoming more securitised by the day as politicians propose more restrictive immigration policies, as well as greater scope for surveillance operations on the part of intelligence agencies.

Beyond the Berlin attack, however, a range of other incidents and developments continue to feed into this securitisation dynamic. Among them are not just the large-scale sexual assaults that occurred in Cologne and other German cities on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016, but also an increasingly agitated discussion on crime and criminality among refugees and asylum-seekers in general.

Sexual assaults

A milestone in this regard has been the highly mediatised case of the rape and murder of a 19-year old student by a 17-year old Afghan refugee in the city of Freiburg. To many, this case – especially as it came after a series of other rapes and acts of violence in the Freiburg region – demonstrated the direct linkage between increased immigration and a worsening security situation.(( http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/mord-an-studentin-in-freiburg-risse-im-idyll-a-1124344.html ))

The case gained added salience due to the fact that, like the 17-year-old Afghan who had attacked the passengers of a regional train near Würzburg in July, the perpetrator of Freiburg was living in a local host family. He thus appeared to have all the possibilities to integrate and build a successful life in Germany.

Since then, two other high-profile cases of assault against women have come to light: in Bochum, a 31-year-old Iraqi asylum-seeker apparently raped and grievously injured two students of the local university.(( http://www1.wdr.de/nachrichten/ruhrgebiet/neue-details-nach-sexuellen-uebergriffen-in-bochum-100.html )) And in Hameln, a Kurdish man tied his wife to the back of his car by a rope around her neck and drove off, dragging her through the town’s streets.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/2016/11/21/hamel-bluttat-auto-schlei_n_13122450.html ))

Difficult reporting decisions

The media have been placed under close scrutiny with respect to their reporting strategies in the aftermath of these events. In a controversial move, Germany’s most-watched nightly TV news magazine, the Tagesschau running at 8 pm on the ARD public broadcaster, initially chose not to mention the arrest of the 17-year-old Afghan charged with raping and killing the Freiburg student.

The network subsequently justified this decision by arguing that the Tagesschau “only very rarely reports on individual criminal cases” because as a national-level news magazine, it is focused on “societally, nationally, and internationally relevant events. A murder case does not number among such events.”(( http://blog.tagesschau.de/2016/12/04/der-mordfall-von-freiburg/ ))

The news magazine’s head editor, Kai Gniffke, asserted that his programme “cannot and does not want to report on every single one of the around 300 murder cases per year (although it is interesting to note that this number has dramatically decreased over the course of the last 15 years).”(( http://blog.tagesschau.de/2016/12/04/der-mordfall-von-freiburg/ ))

Harsh criticism of editorial choices

The criticism directed at the Tagesschau’s editorial desk for its decision not to discuss the case was, nevertheless, fierce. It came not only from the right-wing fringe but also from outlets such as the mainstream conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

In a vitriolic commentary on the matter, the paper asserted that the Tagesschau’s unwillingness to report on the case justified labelling the ARD public broadcaster “Lückenpresse”—‘lacunae press’, or ‘press with gaps’. This constitutes an unabashed reference to the slogan “Lügenpresse” (‘liar’s press’), a term of disparagement of the ‘mainstream media’ with a strong National Socialist legacy that today is widespread among partisans of the new populist right.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/tagesschau-berichtet-nicht-ueber-ermordete-studentin-in-freiburg-14560129-p2.html ))

The fact that one of the country’s major respectable newspapers should so openly accuse another standard media outlet of being complicit in a pro-immigrant cover-up mandated by political elites demonstrates the extent to which populist language and demands have seeped into public debates.

Scrutinising empirical data

As a result, there is now an expectation that any serious crime committed by a refugee or asylum-seeker must be reported on immediately. Crimes perpetrated by immigrants are thus deemed more newsworthy and more dangerous than crimes committed by ethnic Germans.

At the same time, empirical data on the actual number of offences committed by asylum-seekers or refugees has scarcely figured in these debates. According to numbers released by the Federal Criminal Police Office, 5.7 per cent of all suspects involved in criminal cases in 2015 were asylum-seekers or other individuals without residence status.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/zuwanderer-und-kriminalitaet-mord-in-freiburg-ein-absoluter-ausnahmefall-1.3291719.

In Germany, these other persons without official residence status include not just ‘illegal’ immigrants. They also include more than 150,000 individuals under the peculiar legal regime of ‘Duldung’ (literally ‘toleration’ in English). Duldung merely connotes the temporary suspension of deportation; consequently, ‘geduldete’ individuals do not have access to most of the state’s social and financial services, no right to work, and no right to participate in integration courses. Their freedom of movement is restricted to their locality.))

The most common offence with which these individuals have been charged is theft, amounting to a quarter of all criminal cases, followed by fare evasion on public transport (17 per cent). Another quarter of cases concern bodily harm, aggravated theft, or coercion. Sexual offences amount to 1.3 per cent of all cases.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 ))

Make-up of perpetrators and victims

94 per cent of the interpersonal violence is directed at other immigrants.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 )) Especially Germany’s overcrowded refugee shelters have often been identified as conducive to outbreaks of violence.

Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans – collectively making up two thirds of immigrants – are responsible for only 33 per cent of criminal offences perpetrated. Conversely, immigrants from the Balkans and from the Maghreb countries are over-represented among criminal suspects.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 ))

Overall, in the first three quarters of 2016, immigrants were involved in 214,600 criminal offences. Over the course of these three quarters of the year, the number of crimes recorded dropped by 23 per cent, potentially reflecting a growing degree of settledness of the newly arrived migrants. Over the same time period, 67,300 anti-immigrant crimes were recorded.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 ))

Making sense of the numbers

Experts have remained cautious as to which conclusions to draw from these shifting and volatile numbers. Importantly, criminologists point to the need to tackle widespread impoverishment, especially with respect to the Balkans and North Africa: migrants from these regions are drawn into the powerful crime and mafia networks headquartered in their home countries; and participation in these networks is one of the few reliable sources of a stable income.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/zuwanderer-und-kriminalitaet-mord-in-freiburg-ein-absoluter-ausnahmefall-1.3291719-2 ))

Against this backdrop, recent cutbacks to social and financial support given to immigrants are seen in a sceptical light: whilst these restrictions are ostentatiously aimed at curbing the influx of migrants by disincentivising the perilous and expensive journey to Germany, they might jeopardise the ability of already arrived refugees to build a stable life in the country and thus to do without the networks of organised crime.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/zuwanderer-und-kriminalitaet-mord-in-freiburg-ein-absoluter-ausnahmefall-1.3291719-2 ))

Speaking on the Muslim debating programme Forum am Freitag, sociologist Ahmet Toprak highlighted that the perpetrators of violent crimes, particularly sex offences, generally share a set of characteristics—across all ethnic or religious divides. Aside from psychopathological diseases these characteristics include social isolation, lack of education, a history of violence running in the family, as well as intense experiences of violence during childhood and adolescence.(( https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-16-dezember-2016-fluechtlinge-und-gewalt-100.html ))

Putting crime into perspective

Empirical figures as well as sociological and criminological studies thus put into perspective the alarmist language on crime and criminality supposedly emanating from refugees and immigrants. Yet they also highlight particular problem areas.

Immigrants driven from their countries of origin by poverty and lack of economic opportunity with slim chances of obtaining a residence permit in Germany are more likely to become enmeshed in crime. This is particularly true if these criminal organisations already have a strong presence in the home countries (and are perhaps even the ones who can facilitate and finance the travel of migrants to Germany and Europe).

Moreover (and even more difficultly), among the many immigrants fleeing war and persecution, there might very well be a certain number whose own biographies of violence and dislocation make them more prone to the commission of violent acts. This is of course not the same as claiming that, for instance, ‘Afghans as such’ are criminals.

Yet such nuance might be difficult to maintain in a context in which the failure to explicitly ‘name and shame’ a sex offender if he is an immigrant is lambasted as complicity in political correctness.

Germany debates racial profiling after controversial police action targeting North Africans

Mass sexual assaults in Cologne a year ago

During the 2015/2016 New Year’s Eve celebrations, hundreds of women were sexually assaulted and robbed on the plaza outside Cologne’s main railway station opposite the city’s Gothic cathedral. Victims consistently described the perpetrators as men of Arab and/ or North African origin.

One year later, very few of these men have been convicted of any crimes, mainly due to the difficulty of identifying any particular individual and his actions in a teeming crowd caught on grainy CCTV footage. Yet the political ramifications of the mass sexual assaults have been momentous, with the events in Cologne constituting one of the turning points in Germany’s move towards a more restrictive immigration policy over the past year.

Political fallout

The sexual assaults in Cologne were not only followed by a harshened discourse on immigration, however. They also gave rise to renewed discussions about the presumed cultural or civilizational incompatibility of Arab Muslims with European or German values; a debate that was more often than not marked by the recycling of old Orientalist stereotypes.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/01/19/new-year%E2%80%B2s-eve-assaults-on-women-the-cologne-outcry/ ))

The events of Cologne were also grist to the mill of the populist AfD in another sense: since the sexual assaults were not reported in the national media for days, it appeared that the mainstream media and the political establishment were covering up the offences of immigrants out of a misguided impulse of political correctness. This accusation was also directed at Cologne’s police, who were lambasted from the right for failing to immediately and explicitly identify the perpetrators as Arabs and North Africans.

Learning from past mistakes?

This year, the Cologne police department appears to have been eager to prevent any conduct that could lead to renewed accusations of intransparency or political correctness. Ahead of the New Year’s Eve celebrations, police presence was also further augmented against the backdrop of the truck attack against a Berlin Christmas market on December 19.

Subsequently, on New Year’s Eve the police stopped and surrounded up to 1,300 men of North African origin while they were trying to reach the central plaza in front of the Cathedral. Police asserted that the men resembled “last year’s clientele”. They were said to stand out by a heightened “basic aggressiveness”. Police expelled 190 men from the premises, detained 92 and provisionally arrested 27. 10 cases of sexual assault were reported.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/koelner-silvesternacht-polizei-verteidigt-kontrollen-von.1818.de.html?dram:article_id=375275&utm_campaign=buffer&utm_content=buffer2fe62&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com ))

Questionable terminology

These measures have ignited a fierce debate on questions of race and racism. One of the communications made by Cologne’s police department proved particularly controversial: in a since-deleted tweet designed to keep the population up to date, police had announced that “several hundred Nafris are being checked at the central station.”(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-01/koeln-silvesternacht-polizei-nafris-vorwuerfe ))

The term “Nafri”, as police subsequently explained, serves as an abbreviation for ‘North African Intensive Criminal Offender’. The co-chair of the Green Party, Simone Peters, criticised such language as a “degrading group label” that was “completely inacceptable” due to its racist connotations.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/koeln-polizei-faengt-in-der-silvesternacht-hunderte-nordafrikaner-ab-aid-1.6497990 ))

While Cologne’s chief of police subsequently apologised for the usage of the term ‘Nafri’, he still defended the overall police operation as legitimate and proportionate. “It is simply the case”, he asserted, “that based on experiences of the last New Year’s Eve, and based on experiences gained through police operations more generally, we got a clear picture of which individuals had to be checked.” And these, he added, “were not grey-haired old men or blonde young women.”(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-01/koeln-silvesternacht-polizei-nafris-vorwuerfe ))

Public opinion supportive

Public opinion as well as leading politicians from virtually all parties have been very supportive of this stance taken by the police. Simone Peter was disparaged in Germany’s top-selling daily newspaper, Bild, as “green-fundamentalist intensive windbag out of touch with reality”.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-01/cem-oezdemir-koeln-polizeieinsatz-simone-peter?utm_content=zeitde_redpost_zon_link_sf&utm_campaign=ref&utm_source=facebook_zonaudev_int&utm_term=facebook_zonaudev_int&utm_medium=sm&wt_zmc=sm.int.zonaudev.facebook.ref.zeitde.redpost_zon.link.sf ))

Beyond glib assertions and facile insults, however, the events of New Year’s Eve highlight that the Cologne police was caught in a real bind. The political fallout from a failure to prevent a repetition of mass sexual assaults would have been uncontrollable. Consequently, the police already announced prior to December 31 that it had lowered its “threshold of intervention” in order to guarantee a maximum of security.

And indeed, from a purely operational logic focused on the prevention of crimes, it is difficult to argue with the police’s observation that based on past experience it was not unreasonable to direct special attention to large groups of young men of North African descent. The balance between racism and discrimination on the one hand and security and necessary police work on the other hand appears exceedingly difficult to strike.

Questions of racial profiling

Nevertheless, all of this leaves behind an unsavoury aftertaste of racial profiling. The AfD Hamburg was, in fact, quick to assert that the Cologne police action showcased the need for precisely such profiling: “living in an open society means having to decide between racial profiling and mass assaults”. In a string of tweets, the AfD also gleefully picked up on the term ‘Nafri’, now using it as a racially charged catch-all phrase designating North African men in general.(( https://twitter.com/afd_hamburg?lang=en ))

Amnesty International has criticised the conduct of the police as a form of racial profiling violating human rights and likely to entrench stereotypes and prejudices. The organisation questioned whether the police had possessed enough individualised evidence against the hundreds of young men controlled.(( http://amnesty-polizei.de/massives-racial-profiling-durch-die-koelner-polizei-in-der-silvesternacht-massnahme-muss-kritisch-aufgearbeitet-werden/ ))

Tahir Dellar, chair of the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD) noted that, in contrast to its usual practice of categorically denying any racial profiling, this time the Cologne police openly admitted to stopping individuals purely on the basis of ethnic criteria. Dellar assumed that this unusual openness about discriminatory police action was due to the fact that the police expected majority society to support discriminatory policies, as long as they were directed against North Africans.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/silvesternacht-in-koeln-wie-deutschland-mit-racial-profiling-umgeht-1.3317987 ))

Need for a broader public debate

Germany has witnessed periodic court cases on racial profiling, as well as occasional parliamentary debates on this subject matter.(( http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/18/004/1800453.pdf )) However, in contrast to the UK or the US, there is limited public awareness of issues of race and ethnicity in connection with police work.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/silvesternacht-in-koeln-wie-deutschland-mit-racial-profiling-umgeht-1.3317987 ))

German police and security services have struggled to attract immigrants or their children to their forces. A 2011 study highlighted that high-school graduates of Turkish descent were not convinced that they would be welcome in the ranks of the police. The collective failure of police and intelligence services to uncover the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi terrorist group that killed above all immigrants, has further entrenched the perception that the police is unconcerned with racism at best and itself institutionally racist at worst.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2013-03/migranten-polizei-fremdenfeindlichkeit ))

The conduct of police operations in Cologne has prompted some – not just Arab Muslims – to share their stories of what they deem to be unwarranted racial profiling.(( https://correctiv.org/recherchen/flucht/artikel/2017/01/03/racial-profiling-neun-monaten-hat-mich-die-berliner-polizei-23-mal-kontrolliert/?utm_content=buffer7436b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer )) This is an important development: questions of race and racial profiling need to be openly addressed; and the police itself must become more representative of an increasingly diverse society. Only then can the police claim that its – perhaps well-meaning and necessary – actions on New Year’s Eve were also legitimate.

Defusing the lure of militant Islam, despite death threats

These days, Dounia Bouzar doesn’t go anywhere without her three bodyguards. The French Muslim anthropologist has received death threats for unveiling the tactics of Islamist recruiters. I meet her in a cafe along Paris’ Boulevard St. Germain, where Bouzar is enjoying an ice cream sundae in the back while her security contingent, provided by the French government, sits at a table out front, eyes on the entrance.

Bouzar’s book, Defusing Radical Islam, was published in 2014, a year before the rest of the country woke up to the threat of homegrown radicalization. That moment came in January 2015, when radical Islamist gunmen attacked the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, killing 17 people.

“When it was published, hundreds of parents of radicalized kids came looking for me,” says Bouzar. “Because they recognized themselves and their children in my book.”

After the book came out, Bouzar began working with 300 parents to develop ways to deal with the problem. One of the fathers was a policeman and showed the others how to bug their kids’ phones and computers. Bouzar says they were then able to witness how the recruiters worked.

“They set out to break every emotional, social and historical tie in the kids’ lives,” says Bouzar. “The recruiters had them drop their friends, who [they said] were complicit with a corrupt society; their teachers, who [they said] were being paid to indoctrinate them; and eventually, even break from their parents, who [they said] were nonbelievers even if they were Muslim,” she says.

Bouzar says the young people also stopped taking part in sports and music. And when they were stripped of their identity and there was nothing left, ISIS took them over and they became part of the group.

In early 2015, Bouzar’s organization, the Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Excesses Linked to Islam, won a government contract to help parents who had called a national anti-radicalization hotline that had recently been put in place. Bouzar traveled the country training teams of psychologists, police and other experts to deal with the phenomenon of radicalization and parents’ concerns.

One of the parents who reached out to Bouzar for help was Celine, a mother from a small Normandy town whose 19-year-old son had converted to Islam. Celine doesn’t want to give her last name because of fears for her family.

She says it wasn’t her son’s conversion to Islam that bothered her, but the way he began to cut himself off from the world. “All of a sudden, he refused to eat pork or listen to music,” she says. “And his grades plummeted. He had an empty look in his eyes and it was like he didn’t think for himself anymore. He became sort of like a robot. And he was always, always on the phone.”

Celine discovered her son had opened a second Facebook account — and on it, he was discussing going to Syria.

According to the French Interior Ministry, more young people from France have radicalized and gone to war zones in Syria and Iraq than from any other European country. About 1,500 French citizens have gone or tried to go. Approximately 700 are still there. Celine wanted to make sure her son would not be among them.

Bouzar says that ISIS, unlike al-Qaida, tailors its radicalization tactics to individual profiles. For example, girls are particularly attracted to the idea of taking care of children hurt by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad or finding a God-fearing and faithful Muslim husband. Recruiters play to these desires. They even have different videos geared to speak to the different motivations for wanting to join ISIS.

“For girls, there’s a kind of myth of a Daesh-[ISIS-]land utopia where no one will be cold or hungry and everything runs on divine law,” says Bouzar. “The recruiters make them believe they can become a nurse and be running a hospital wing in just a couple of months.”

One of Bouzar’s methods for treating young people seduced by ISIS involves re-establishing links between radicalized individuals and their former lives. She counsels parents to try to bring them back in touch with their childhood — through old pictures and videos or food.

Celine tried this with her son and had little success at first, but she persevered.

“I made all his favorite meals that he loved as a child,” she says. “And I took him to places he liked when he was young. I did everything to reconnect him with his childhood.” Eventually, she noticed he was becoming more open to discussion. He took an interest in school again. The empty look vanished from his eyes.

Bouzar says a person can only be brought back with the help of someone close, like a parent or other family member — or by a reformed jihadist himself.

She has used allegedly reformed jihadists in counseling sessions to try to break through to some of the young people who are radicalizing. “We get them together without the young person realizing who this person is,” says Bouzar. “But then they begin to recognize their own story out of the mouth of the reformed jihadist, because he was lured for some of the same reasons. And slowly, doubt begins to set in.”

Bouzar says there is no such thing as a radicalized youth who wants to be de-radicalized. “He thinks he’s been picked by God and he sees things no one else does, because [everybody else is] indoctrinated,” she says.

Bouzar’s methods have been controversial. Some say her use of allegedly reformed jihadists is dangerous. (In some cases, it can be challenging to ascertain whether they’ve really reformed or are pretending.) Others accuse her of self-promotion. Many more say treating radicalization as purely brainwashing is to underestimate geopolitical and social factors, and the role that radical Islam plays.

Benjamin Erbibou, who works with an organization called Entr’Autres (Among Others), a group that works with radicalization issues in the southern city of Nice, thinks only a small percentage of radicalization cases are linked to brainwashing.

“Mostly,” he says, “it’s linked to a complete rupture and rejection of French society and Western values.”

But Marik Fetouh, deputy mayor of Bordeaux and head of the city’s de-radicalization center, says it’s easy to criticize efforts to deal with radicalization because it’s a poorly understood new phenomenon.

“Bouzar came forward with real ideas to fight this complex phenomenon when pretty much no one else had a clue what to do,” he says.

Although her contract with the French government is over, Bouzar’s association still counsels families affected by radicalization. Bouzar and her teams have counseled more than 1,000 young people and their parents — from Muslim, Catholic and atheist backgrounds.

Normandy mother Celine credits Bouzar’s methods with saving her son’s life. She says he’s still a Muslim, but now he’s begun to think for himself. And most important, she says, he no longer wants to go to Syria.

Jewish scholar prosecuted for anti-Muslim remarks in France

One of the world’s leading historians on the Jewish communities in Arab countries is being prosecuted in France for alleged hate speech against Muslims.

The Morocco-born French-Jewish scholar Georges Bensoussan, 64, is due to appear before a Paris criminal court over a complaint filed against him for incitement to racial hatred by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, the group recently announced on its website.

The complaint, which leading French scholars dismissed as attempt at “intimidation” in a statement Friday, was over remarks about anti-Semitism by Muslims that Bensoussan, author of a definitive 2012 work entitled “Jews in Arab Lands,” made last year during an interview aired by the France Culture radio station, the Collective said.

The Collective based its complaint on two remarks by Bensoussan.

“Today, we are witnessing a different people in the midst of the French nation, who are effecting a return on a certain number of democratic values to which we adhere,” read the first quote flagged.

The second quote cited read: “This visceral anti-Semitism proven by the Fondapol survey by Dominique Reynié last year cannot remain under a cover of silence.” Conducted in 2014 among 1,580 French respondents, of whom one third were Muslim, the survey found that they were two times and even three times more anti-Jewish than French people as a whole.

“Besides, with the animosity toward the French nation, there will be no integration as long as we will not be rid of this ancestral anti-Semitism that is kept secret (…) as an Algerian sociologist, Smain Laacher, very bravely said in a film that will be aired on France 3, ‘it’s disgraceful to keep in place this taboo, knowing that in Arab families in France and beyond everybody knows but will not say that anti-Semitism is transmitted with mother’s milk,” the quote continued.

At least 12 people have been murdered in three attacks by suspected jihadists from France on Jewish targets in that country and in Belgium since 2012.

The anti-Islamophobia collective called Bensoussan’s statements “dangerous and in line with far-right rhetoric” targeting Muslims.

But three prominent French writers and historians — Jacques Tarnero, Yves Ternon and Michel Zaoui – disputed the allegations, calling the complaint against Bensoussan “scandalous.”

The cautions taken against Bensoussan “are part of a strategy of intimidation intended to censure any lucid statement, any form of criticism,” they wrote in a statement they published online last week.

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France wrote in its statement that Paris prosecutors initiated the prosecution against Bensoussan “in light of the gravity of his remarks.”

 

Video: women ‘shunned’ in certain Paris suburbs

The investigation was launched by France 2 TV with the aid of Brigade Des Mères (BDM) group which aims to restore gender equality across France.

Two BDM representatives – both women – carried out a social experiment. They chose Sevran commune in the northeastern suburbs of Paris and analyzed the reaction of local men towards women. The response was probably well-suited to some neighborhood in Saudi Arabia, the women later said.

In one café, which solely consisted of male customers, they received a cold welcome. The women were asked if they were looking for a man.”

“There are men in the café,” explains one of the men to them, while the women respond: “It’s OK, in the world there are men and women.”

Answering the question if such behavior is normal, the men in the café answer: “It’s Sevran, not Paris. We have a different mentality.”

“It’s not like in France, it is like back home!” one of the men says.

“But it’s France,” one of the women replies. Sevran is located 16km from the center of the French capital.

Later in the video the camera captures a woman dressed in burqa, a full-body cloak worn by some Muslim women.

All dialogues were filmed with secret cameras. BDM later wrote that in some neighborhoods in France women have become “undesirable in public places.”

Walking in a skirt or having a coffee on the terrace can become a real challenge for them,” the group said.

 

 

Report: France ‘worst in the world’ at guessing Muslim population

French people are the most likely to hold misconceptions about the current and predicted Muslim population in their country, according to a study by Ipsos Mori published on Wednesday.

French people believed that 31 percent of the population was Muslim, when the real figure according to Pew research in 2010 was 7.5 percent.

Among the 40 countries polled, respondents in South Africa, the Philippines, and Italy also wildly overestimated the Muslim population.

French respondents also predicted that 40 percent of the population will be Muslim by 2020, but the same researchers predict the current number will rise to 8.3 percent (see graph below).

In Britain, respondents put the Muslim population at 15 percent – three times higher than reality.

The survey also asked people about their country’s views on issues like homosexuality and abortion, and how much they thought the government spends on healthcare every year.

Ipsos said that nearly all countries overestimate their Muslim population, and many are “extraordinarily wrong”.

Beziers mayor to be tried for Muslim ‘problem’ comments

Robert Menard, who is an ally of France’s anti-immigrant National Front party, will face a charge in a Paris court of incitement to hatred or discrimination.

“In a class in the city center in my town, 91 percent of the children are Muslims. Obviously, this is a problem. There are limits to tolerance”, he said in September 5 comments on news channel LCI.

 

Also in September, on France’s first day back to school, he tweeted his regret at witnessing “the great replacement”, using a term by xenophobic writer Renaud Camus to describe the country’s white, Christian population being overtaken by foreign-born Muslims.

Menard, who is the mayor of southern France town Beziers, denied his comments were discriminatory.

“I just described the situation in my town,” he told AFP. “It is not a value judgement, it’s a fact. It’s what I can see.”

According to France-based anti-racism group Licra, the trial is set for March 8.

Menard prompted outrage in October by putting up anti-migrant posters and calling for a local referendum ahead of the arrival of asylum-seekers in his town.

Under the headline “That’s It, They’re Coming”, is an image of a crowd of migrants, all of them men, outside the cathedral in Beziers.

Menard was for 23 years the head of the media rights group Reporters Without Borders, which has distanced itself from him since he left in 2008.

French jihadist sentenced to ten years in prison following return from Syria

Nicolas Moreau, a convicted French jihadist who returned from Syria, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for criminal association with a terrorist organization.

The 32-year-old Frenchman was not present at the Paris correctional court since he refused to leave the prison where he is being held for the hearing.

Prosecutors had argued that Moreau presented an “extremely dangerous threat” and warned that he risked returning to his “jihadist commitment” once released.

 

A former fisherman from Nantes, Moreau fell into a life of petty crime before he was radicalised in prison and left France to join the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq. He stayed in the region for nearly a year and a half, according to prosecutors, and even ran a restaurant in the IS group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, during the last three months.

At a hearing on December 14, 2016, Moreau warned the court that if he was sentenced to more than 18 months in jail he would “return to armed combat”.

Born in South Korea and adopted by a French family at the age of four, Moreau lived in the western French city of Nantes and fell into delinquency after his adoptive parents divorced. He was sentenced to five years in jail for violent robbery and converted to Islam while in prison.

It was a trajectory of radicalization similar to his younger brother, Flavien Moreau, who became the first French jihadist to be tried upon his return from Syria. In November 2014, Flavien was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Both the brothers were born in South Korea before they were adopted as infants. But Flavien, the younger brother, spent only a few weeks in IS group-held territory since he was unable to cope with the jihadist group’s no-smoking policy. He entered Syria in November 2012, but returned to France weeks later to pick up an electronic cigarette. He was arrested in Turkey on his way back to Syria. Flavien is currently serving a seven-year term.

During his trial, Nicolas Moreau, the older brother, told the court he left the caliphate because he “became aware of the excesses of Daesh. He told judges he wanted to get married and return to normal life. But he also warned judges that: “If you put a heavy penalty on me, it will be harder to reintegrate me [into society]. I will take up arms again.”

Prosecutors however argued that Nicolas Moreau required a 10-year sentence since “he would return to his jihadist commitment” if released.