In Bordeaux, Muslims fight radical Islam

Fouad Saanadi is preaching to the converted, but not the mainstream Muslim community he belongs to. In a discreet building near city hall, the Bordeaux imam meets with bewildered parents and fragile youngsters, some of whom have never set foot inside a mosque.

Many come from troubled families and neighborhoods. Some are mentally unstable. He and a small group of experts are fighting a powerful adversary: militant Islam.

“My role is not to tell people the ‘good’ or ‘true’ Islam, but to help awaken a critical approach,” Saanadi says of Bordeaux’s year-old CAPRI program aimed at preventing radicalization. “We are not here to confront but rather to awaken a critical awareness.”

Bordeaux counts among a growing number of communities across Europe searching for ways to counter extremism, following a wave of largely home-grown terrorist attacks. The question is all the more important for France, the target of three terror strikes in two years, and western Europe’s biggest exporter of extremist fighters.

Unlike countries like Germany and Britain, France is a relative newcomer to approaches beyond law-and-order ones, and new efforts to branch out have not always proved successful. Indeed, a recent Senate report characterized the state’s approach in tackling radicalization a failure.

 

Today, there is a new sense of urgency to finding answers. Hundreds of foreign fighters are beginning to return to Europe, authorities say, posing risks as potential terrorists and recruiters. Some end up in French prisons, already considered jihadist breeding grounds.

“The European system is not experienced with dealing with so many radicalized people,” Khosrokhavar says. “We need to invent a new way of dealing with this sort of problem.”

A partnership between Bordeaux’s city hall and the regional Muslim federation, the year-old CAPRI program may be one sign of changing times. While the initiative is local, it offers a religious dimension to fighting radicalization – one that is drawing interest from other municipalities.

“For the youngsters and the families, the fact we’re doing this program with the Muslim community is positive,” says Bordeaux’s Deputy Mayor Marik Fetouh, who is also CAPRI’s spokesman. “It shows we’re not confounding Islam and radicalization, and often the theologians will create links between the families and CAPRI.”

Imam Saanadi gathers with half-a-dozen therapists, psychiatrists and legal experts to evaluate each new case. Of the 36 youngsters now enrolled, roughly 40 percent are women. A number are converts, or “born again” Muslims from largely secular backgrounds. The average age is 22. “It’s a puzzle,” Saanadi tells DW. “When we put together the different pieces, we can see whether to intervene or not.”

As secretary-general of Bordeaux’s Muslim federation, Saanadi himself ascribes to a moderate, government-sanctioned brand of Islam that respects French secularism but is not always considered legitimate among more fundamentalist believers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he does not personally know anyone who has joined a jihadi movement. “Terrorism is a question for national education,” he says. “We see children at the mosque two hours a week. The rest of their time is at school.”

Whatever the cause, most agree that France has a serious problem. Roughly 700 French jihadists are still fighting in Iraq and Syria, according to recent government figures; another 1,350 suspected radicals are in French prisons, including nearly 300 with direct ties to terrorist networks.

Nationwide, authorities classify another 15,000 as extremists and potential security threats, including an estimated 200 or more in the southwestern Gironde department that includes Bordeaux. The state’s traditional law-and-order response has not proved effective, critics say.

“The state took too much time and now it’s searching for miracle solutions,” sociologist Ouisa Kies, an expert on radicalization in prisons, told DW.

Last year, the center-left government adopted a softer approach with uncertain results so far. It earmarked more than $300 million (284 million euros) for de-radicalization programs over three years, and rolled out the first of a dozen voluntary centers planned across the country.

But in February, a French senate report deemed the de-radicalization center, in the Loire Valley, a “fiasco.” Only nine youngsters had been treated there, it said, and it was currently empty.

The new government funding windfall has also helped fuel some 80 local initiatives, some with dubious credentials. “It’s becoming a market,” says Bordeaux’s main imam, Tareq Oubrou, who provides theological advice to CAPRI. “Everyone is becoming a de-radicalization specialist in two seconds.”

“As soon as there’s an initiative by a Muslim leader or members of the community there’s always suspicion,” says Kies, who believes the Muslim leadership nonetheless has a narrow but necessary role to play in countering radicalization.

In Bordeaux, Saanadi is the first to acknowledge the limits of his intervention. “There are no miracle solutions,” he says. “It’s very easy to destroy, but very difficult to reconstruct.”

Tareq Oubrou’s argument for why Islam belongs in France

Tareq Oubrou is the leader of the Muslim community in a city famous for the earthy red wines that have made this region a household name — and that his followers are forbidden from sampling.

But after three major terrorist attacks in two years and recent controversy over the “burkini” swimsuit, Oubrou has become France’s leading advocate for an Islam that is progressive, inclusive and, most of all, French.

In a series of articles, television interviews and now a popular book, Oubrou has publicly criticized the headscarf, argued for welcoming homosexual Muslims into the faith and equated the essence of Islam with the basic French idea of human emancipation.

For this imam, the two are one and the same — and entirely unrelated to the frequent public debate over what Muslim women wear, either on the street or on the beach.

“I don’t care what people put on their heads,” he said during an interview in his office in Bordeaux’s grand mosque. The room was piled with books from floor to ceiling. “I find that a shameful debate.”

In his recent book, “What You Don’t Know About Islam,” published in February, Oubrou calls for an “Islam of France,” which he defines as “the reconciliation of a spiritual Islam that expresses itself in the language of the Republican values already in place.” Namely, France’s holy triumvirate of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Largely for ideas like these, Oubrou has become a darling of the French political elite. In 2013, he was named a chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the country’s highest award for civil and military merit; in January 2015, he was chosen by the Interior Ministry as a special adviser to the government after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. There are even rumors that he could become a government minister if Bordeaux’s mayor, the popular Alain Juppé, wins the country’s presidential election next year.

But his ideas have also earned Oubrou many detractors, including a number of ordinary French Muslims, who feel that his views often parrot those of the government. After all, the same people who decorated Oubrou with the Legion of Honor ultimately condoned the burkini ban, on the grounds that it was an affront to republican equality.

“It’s coming from a good intention, I think,” Marwan Muhammad, director of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, said in an interview. “But many see his vision of Islam — that Muslims should be discreet, should be less visible than they are today — as basically validating Islamophobic stereotypes, that basically Muslims should prove their loyalty to the state by assimilating.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic State has issued several fatwas against Oubrou, whom its leaders regularly call the “imam of debauchery.” “He should be killed without hesitation,” insisted Dar al-Islam, its French-language magazine, in its spring issue. Oubrou says he has not lost any sleep over this latest threat — and still refuses the government’s offer of police protection. “If I were afraid, it would be a defeat,” he said.

To Oubrou, France has been since the French Revolution less of a country and more of a concept, committed to human rights and universal equality. And these, he argues, are the same lofty aspirations as those of Islam and any true religion.

“The Muslim faith is in the service of all humanity in general — as is the nation,” he said. “That’s what religion is: how to serve man, how to transform him, to make man as perfect as possible in thought, in sensibility, in spirituality, in relation to the mysteries of God.”

Born in Morocco to Francophone parents in 1959, Oubrou was naturalized as a French citizen in the late 1980s. It was a watershed moment in his life and his development as a thinker. As he put it: “I adopted French nationality, and so I should be loyal, quite simply. I should respect the law, contribute to the economy of this country and its prosperity as much as any other citizen.”

In France, as elsewhere in Europe, there is a long tradition of religions perceived as “foreign” working tirelessly to demonstrate that their teachings are more than compatible with society at large.

Throughout the 19th century, for instance, France’s Jewish leaders, facing constant anti-Semitism, argued that the Hebrew Bible stressed the same values as the nation. They proudly sent their sons and brothers to serve in the French military in World War I.

In the face of rising Islamophobia, Oubrou’s sermons and teachings show a similar patriotic impulse. For instance, he has insisted that the Bordeaux mosque use the French language in addition to Arabic. Children in the mosque’s school learn about Islam in French, as do those enrolled in its seminary.

“Our third and fourth generations dream in French,” Oubrou said. “They should speak to God in French.”

Besides, he says, French citizenship is an identity distinct from other national affiliations: It is a “moral contract,” a commitment to lofty, abstract ideals that make more sense when individuals can connect them with their private faiths.

These days, what primarily interests Oubrou are those who feel excluded from that moral contract, especially the young French and Francophone Muslims who, for a variety of reasons, have been pushed toward radicalization in recent years. In each of France’s recent terrorist attacks, the perpetrators came from this loose demographic, a fact that Oubrou has begun confronting on a local level.

Along with Bordeaux’s City Hall, he has helped create a pilot program for “deradicalizing” young people suspected of showing violent tendencies at an early age. Called the Center of Action and Prevention Against the Radicalization of Individuals (CAPRI), it was formally launched announced in January.

According to Marik Fetouh, the Bordeaux municipal officer for equality and citizenship who oversees the program, CAPRI receives referrals from local authorities about individuals they suspect may be susceptible to radicalization: typically young men in relative social isolation whose social-media profiles suggest an affinity with the Islamic State or the rhetoric of other extremist groups.

Fetouh added that since the announcement of the program, local families — entirely independent of the authorities — have also begun approaching the organization about their children. They feel comfortable doing so, he said, because CAPRI is not meant as incarceration: It is primarily designed as a mental-health initiative, staffed with trained professionals who help troubled youths identify and confront the sources of their anger.

Since it began, Fetouh said, CAPRI has worked with roughly 30 individuals. While a success rate will be difficult to ascertain, the hope is that the program will serve as a humane template for what other communities across France might do as the country confronts the issue collectively. This year, for instance, France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, announced the establishment of other deradicalization centers, although those will focus on individuals at a later stage.

For Oubrou, a key factor in the fight against radicalization lies in acknowledging the shortcomings of the same nation he has devoted his life to upholding.

“To be honest, radicalization is a symptom of the malaise of the republic. Our notion of equality is never applied on the level of schools or on the level of work. Equality is important between women and men, and everyone must dress the same,” he said, referring to the rationale of those who opposed the burkini. “But not on the level of salary.”

This, in his mind, is the eternal riddle of the French Republic, at times as elusive and equivocal as the religions its staunch secularism nominally opposes. “France is perhaps the most utopian country in the world,” Oubrou said. “But it’s a utopia that’s not achievable.”

French Islam: ‘imam formation must be appropriate and independent’

Following the recent attacks on French soil the rector of the mosque in Bordeaux, Tareq Oubrou, judged that the gathering of Muslims and Catholics constituted “a first in the history of Islamo-Christian relations in France. It’s thanks to the Church’s position regarding its declarations [following the attack], and thanks to the Catholic Church’s open doors in its parishes,” he said.

The religious representative believes that “a complete reworking of the Muslim ideology” is necessary, as it is “still medieval” and contains “a canon law that was formulated in the Middle Ages and should be reworded.” He also stated that “the training of imams should be appropriate and [must benefit] from both a theological and political independence regarding the countries of origin that, unfortunately, still have a dominance over Islam.”

Sarkozy and Juppé clash over Islam in France

Source: http://www.lefigaro.fr/politique/le-scan/citations/2016/06/14/25002-20160614ARTFIG00060-couple-de-policiers-tue-entre-emotion-et-colere-les-politiques-reagissent.php

June 13, 2016

 

The two leading contenders to be the mainstream right’s candidate in next year’s French presidential election have clashed over France’s relations with its Muslim population. After former president Nicolas Sarkozy denounced the “tyranny of minorities” in a speech last week, his chief rival, Alain Juppé, warned that judging Islam incompatible with the nation’s values would lead to civil war.

 

Although Sarkozy has not yet officially declared his candidacy, few doubt that he will stand in the forthcoming primary of his Republicans party and the press judged a speech he made in northern France last week to be a key step in his campaign.

 

“In the years ahead what will be left of France?” he asked a hall that was only half full, although with some 40 MPs in attendance. “That’s the first challenge. The greatest. The most fundamental.”

 

The former president called on the French people to “wake up” to defend the national identity in the face of the “abdication of the elites”.

 

A “tyranny of minorities” is “forcing the republic further into retreat each day”, he went on, declaring France to be a “Christian country” that must be “respected … by those who wish to live in it.”

 

Those minorities include demonstrating school students, militant environmentalists, vandals on demonstrations and a “handful of radical Islamists”, who left-wing multiculturalists have allowed to dictate that individual rights take precedence over “rules that should hold for all”, Sarkozy said.

 

Then he took a sideswipe at Juppé.

The “new ruling ideology” has infected some on the right, Sarkozy claimed.

“It has struck surreptitiously, singing the sweet melody of ‘sensible accomodations’,” – a reference to his Juppé’s call for dialogue with French Muslims and integration of immigrants rather than the more thoroughgoing assimilation that Sarkozy has called for.

 

Juppé, a former prime minister who is now mayor of Bordeaux, hit back on Sunday on his blog and on television, calling for “diversity in unity.”

 

“I don’t want an identity that is unhappy, fearful, anxious, almost neurotic,” he wrote on his blog. “For me identity doesn’t mean exclusion or rejection of the other”, pointing out that all the French “do not have the same origins, the same skin color, the same religion or beliefs” and declaring this “a treasure, a strength.”

 

On the TF1 TV channel Juppé declared that there are “two possible attitudes” to Islam in France.

 

“If one considers that Islam is by definition incompatible, insoluble with the republic, that means civil war,” he warned, advocating a “reading of the Koran and a practice of the religion that is compatible with the laws of the republic”, including the equality of men and women.

 

Juppé has spoken out against Sarkozy’s calls for extending the ban on the Muslim hijab now in force in schools to universities and banning of halal alternative meals in school canteens.

 

His earlier calls for tolerance have led to a hate campaign on social media, Juppé said.

 

“They call me ‘Ali Juppé’, described as the Grand Mufti of Bordeaux, they are writing everywhere that I’m spending a fortune of financing a huge mosque in Bordeaux, which doesn’t exist and will not exist,” he told TF1.

 

In reality, he has called for changes to some Muslims’ behavior, calling for imams to preach in French and to have degrees in French history and laws, and wants a special police force to monitor radicalization in France’s prisons.

 

The row is a sign that Sarkozy will return to attacking “communitarism” during the Republicans primary and the presidential campaign, as he did in the 2007 and 2012 campaigns, in part inspired by Patrick Buisson, a hard-right journalist who pushed him to bid for National Front votes.

 

Last week’s speech was partly written by Camille Pascal, a contributor to the hard-right magazine Valeurs Actuelles and was hailed by some of his allies as an attempt to engage Juppé on terrain that Sarkozy considers favorable to himself.

 

Although opinion polls show Juppé the most popular candidate for the presidency among the general public at the moment, he first has to convince the right-wing faithful to adopt him as candidate.

 

Whoever is chosen will want to attract voters tempted by the National Front in the first round of the presidential election and, according to the polls, could face the far-right party’s Marine Le Pen in a second round that is likely to provide evidence of the rejection of the political establishment that has affected much of the world recently.

 

National Front vice-president Louis Aliot weighed into the debate on Monday, declaring that there is a “problem of accountability between the religion [of Islam] in itself and the republic’s laws” and calling on Muslims to “adapt to republican rules.”

Tauran: Interreligious dialogue: “we are not competing rather; we are pilgrims of the truth”

“Believers know that ‘man does not live by bread alone’, they are aware that they have to make a specific contribution in their daily lives and that they must do so together, not as competitors, but as pilgrims of the truth.” Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue explained, speaking last night in London at the third meeting of the bishops and delegates from the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe regarding relations with Muslims. The meeting was sponsored by the CCEE, which will end tomorrow.

Speaking at the opening session, the cardinal recalled the importance of continuing a dialogue between Christians and Muslims, he also supported the visit of Benedict XVI to Lebanon, with a meeting with Muslim religious leaders and the creation Inter-faith Centre in Vienna “which may be a new channel to denounce the violation of religious freedom and at the same time encourage and share positive experiences.”

The Archbishop of Bordeaux, Jean-Pierre Ricard, also in attendance, said “the international landscape was extensively modified as a result of the` Arab Spring ‘ in Egypt and Tunisia, the war in Libya and separatist movements in Syria have repercussions throughout the Middle East.”

A final document is produced in London after three meetings of Bishops and Delegates regarding relations with Muslims in Europe

A testimony of faith is necessary for a dialogue with all. In Europe today, both to the east and the west, south and in the north the dialogue between Christians and Muslims is inescapable, creating a need for a deeper understanding. Only proper dialogue allows one to approach the Muslim believer free of prejudice. In a secular and plural society, the challenge of education for a diverse audience must also be integrated with a deep understanding of faith and identity. At the same time, a plural society exists only on the condition of mutual respect, and the desire to know each other through an ongoing dialogue. These are some of the reflections made by the bishops and delegates about relations with Muslims during the Episcopal Conferences in London for three days.

The two main themes addressed in the conference were “dialogue and proclamation” and “the question of identity construction of young Christians and Muslims.” The meeting was led by Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard the archbishop of Bordeaux. The conference attracted the participation of bishops and delegates from 20 different organizations including catholic delegates, episcopal organization leaders and cultural organizations.

A new wave of Muslim feminists

Amongst the many contemporary reformist movements of Islam, one is concerned with the promotion of progressive and inclusive ideals such as gender equality and deals with questions on sexuality, homosexuality and transgender identities. What is called Islamic feminism is a tradition which emerged in Iran as an intellectual movement based on the critical exegesis of the Quran. The movement of Islamic feminists consists of religious women and religious feminists who refuse to be discriminated by their religion. They claim the right to reject bias and unjust interpretations of Islam and are open towards the inclusion and integration of LGBT Muslims.

The recent debate on same sex marriage in France and the institutionalisation of a “French Islam” renders greater importance towards progressive and inclusive interpretations of Islam. As such, reformist movements like that of Islamic feminism might help to eliminate gender bias and sexual discrimination amongst Muslims in France. As the imam of Bordeaux, Tareq Oubrou, recently declared, homosexuality is not condemned by the Quran or the sunna.

Some reformist movements in France have embraced Islamic feminism and the opening of the first inclusive mosque in France which conducts same sex marriages indicates that there are sections amongst the Muslim population that are receptive towards these progressive ideas.

“Gay Muslims are Muslims too”

11/10/2010

Rue 89

Tareq Oubrou, the imam of Bordeaux, opposes homophobia and the state sanctioned persecution of homosexuals in Muslim majority states. The imam wants to disassociate Islam with homophobia and anti-semetism by calling for more tolerance towards homosexuals in general, as well as homosexual Muslims.

Oubrou states that the practice of homosexuality isn’t approved by the Quran but gay Muslims are still Muslims in their own right. He argues that the seven Muslim majority states the practice of homosexuality with the death penalty base their jurisdiction upon unverified hadiths.

Fault lines of the French model on integration and immigration

04.01.2013

Liberation

During a debate on the crisis of integration in France at this year’s Forum de Grenoble, Tareq Oubrou, imam from Bordeaux and Jean-Claude Sommaire, former Secretary General of the Council on Integration, came together to identify some issues that have created today’s social tension amongst immigrant youth.

Sommaire considers the French model of integration to have never really existed. In his eyes, members of earlier waves of immigration have integrated in distinct ways. Whilst their children have most commonly left behind their ancestral roots by integrating and assimilating into French society, the descendants of more recent immigrants from the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa have in contrast not.

In a survey conducted by Liberation, 25% of youth state to live in rupture with society. With increasing discrimination and being exposed to the growth of Islam in economically and socially difficult environments, these youth often have no choice but to replicate communitarianism. Sommaire says that “in some quarters it is not the number of Muslims that is rising but the visibility of them”.

Oubrou identifies the failure of schools and the exclusion of Muslims as the main reason for communitarianism amongst Muslims. According to him, Muslim youth consider religion as a shield of protection where they can find refuge and answers to the wrongs done to them. He however also strongly argues that the notion of secularism in France is what puts the relation between Muslim youth and French society in strain. Oubrou comments that “historically secularism has never been anti-religious. Secularism permitted the public expression of faith but today there is a virtual schizophrenia between lived realities and what the law says. It has become normal to see the Muslim faith as a threat. Hence, there’s an increasing demand to adapt the faith to Western civilization and culture”.

Boudeaux-based filmmakers look humorously at French Muslims

News Agencies – May 10, 2011

Who says Muslims can’t be funny? That’s the tagline for a project by a French team that has produced 18 short movies in the last two years that take a humourous look at being a Muslim in France. With 14 million hits on its website, the project has attracted attention, but it has had trouble moving into mainstream television.

The Bordeaux-based filmmakers – known collectively as A part ça tout va bien (Besides that, everything’s fine) – have taken on the tricky subject as the French government has been debating secularism and the role of Islam in society. Some of the films are longer, with more involved plotlines, but all deal with what comedian and co-founder Hassan Zahi, 29, calls “human folly”.