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.”

Islamic Secondary School in Rotterdam to Close

10 September 2013

Ibn Ghaldoun School, the Rotterdam secondary school which was the focus of an exam theft earlier this year, is to lose its government funding and close down. According to Sander Dekker, the Netherlands’ Junior Education Minister, the closure is based on a recommendation from school inspectors.

The school has financial difficulties, and according to Dekker, almost 80% of its upper school teachers do not have sufficient levels of Dutch or educational qualification.

The school was the scene of an exam theft in May 2013, when it emerged that 27 national exam papers had been stolen and distributed to students.

Two years ago, Amsterdam’s only Islamic secondary school was also closed due to standards and financial difficulties. The country has some 40 Islamic primary schools.

Fired by NPR, Juan Williams Begins Bigger Role at Fox, Keeps up Criticism of Ex-employer

Juan Williams was fired Wednesday over comments he made on “The O’Reilly Factor.” “When I get on a plane,” he said, “I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” After his remarks, Fox announced it had re-signed Williams, who has been with the network since 1997, to a multi year deal that will give him an expanded role–while, NPR terminated his contract.

In an interview on Friday, Vivian Schiller, NPR’s chief executive, defended the decision to dismiss Mr. Williams and said it was not the product of political or financial pressures. “And that is the sole reason,” she added. “This is not a First Amendment issue.” The public radio organization has come under severe criticism — largely from people who are not listeners, it believes — for having fired Mr. Williams. Some have said his comment was bigoted, but others have rallied to Mr. Williams’s defense, and many conservatives have seized on his firing to resurrect their war against public broadcasting.

NPR radio stations are independently owned and operated and, like the nation’s public TV stations, receive government funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which got about $420 million this year from Washington. As for NPR’s headquarters operation, federal grants account for less than 2 percent — or $3.3 million — of its $166 million annual budget. It is funded primarily by its affiliates, corporate sponsors and major donors.

Dutch Muslims Create Website for Critical Discussion

Members of the Islamic community in the Netherlands have started a website as a platform to provide critical discussion about Islam. The site, nieuwemoskee.nl (‘new mosque’), is created independent of government funding and is intended to stimulate public debate on Islam’s position in Dutch society, as well as to provide “a platform for critical voices from all schools of thought, whether they be reformist, conservative or fundamentalist”, comments Arnold Yasin Mol. According to Mol, who heads the Deen Research Centre for modern Islamic thought and sits on the board of the Dutch Muslim Party, the website hopes to meet the demand among young Muslims to express their opinions.

Opposition to mosque subsidies fails

An opposition movement against the Dutch cabinet’s support for mosques has failed. The Home Affairs Ministry and Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) assert that government subsidies for religious organizations are permissible on the basis that it fosters integration. The failed opposition bid was supported by the conservatives (VVD), Party for Freedom (PVV) and centre-left D66, as well as the Socialist Party who argued that the “government cannot be a little bit neutral”, and should “tackle segregation via training and work, not via subsidies to mosques”.

Dutch lawmaker calls for the closure of all Muslim schools

Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders, the controversial leader and founder of the Freedom Party (PVV), has called for the immediate closure of all Muslim schools in the Netherlands in an article published Tuesday. The move was necessary “to protect children against the ongoing spreading of Islam,” Wilders wrote on Dutch news websitem, Nieuwsnieuws. “We have too much Islam in the Netherlands. Islam is effectively more a violent political ideology than a religion,” he wrote. During the 2006 elections, Wilders’ PVV surprised everyone by gaining nine seats in the 175-seat Dutch parliament. Wilders had been an MP for several years – first for the Liberal-right VVD party and then as an independent member. Last year was the first time he contested the elections with his own party. Yassin Hartog, interim director of the ISBO, the umbrella organization of Muslim schools in the Netherlands, considers Wilders’ words to be a “provocation.” “I don’t think there is much reason for another controversy about Muslim schools in Holland. Muslim education in Holland is well-rooted in the national school system,” Hartog said. Holland is known for its uniquely broad range of schools and educational systems. Public schools are fully funded by the government, and special schools receive substantial government funding. Some 40 per cent of Dutch schools are public. The remaining 60 percent are special schools, some of which are based on specific educational systems such as Montessori, while others are based upon a religious denomination. In the last 15 years a few dozen Muslim schools have been established, predominantly elementary schools. In recent months, however, several Muslim schools made the Dutch headlines after school inspections found they did not meet the minimum educational standards, especially for the Dutch language and integration into Dutch society.