Grand Mosque of Paris pulls out of Foundation for Islam in France

The Grand Mosque of Paris will pull out of a new, state-sponsored Muslim foundation, criticizing “interference” in how Islam is exercised, at a time of simmering tensions surrounding France’s second-largest faith, its spokesman said.

The mosque, which represents some 250 Muslim associations, called in a statement for other Muslim groups to follow suit and “reject all attempts of stewardship” by the state.

“We’re happy to have the state create a foundation, but the president must be Muslim and it must be done in collaboration with Muslims, we don’t want it imposed,” said Slimane Nadour, the mosque’s communications director.

But Abdallah Zekri, secretary-general of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, an umbrella body, suggested the mosque was peeved that its head, Dalil Boubakeur, was not tapped as foundation president. “We need a foundation,” he said.

 

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.”

 

Death of Malek Chebel, defender of an ‘Enlightened Islam’

Champion of an ‘Enlightened’ Islam, the Algerian anthropologist and psychoanalyst Malek Chebel died in Paris on November 12 from cancer at the age of 63.

Born in Skikda, Algeria in 1953, Malek Chebel enrolled at the university of Ain El Bey in 1973. After, he went to France with a grant from the French consulate and received a degree in clinical psychopathology and clinical psychology from Paris 7.

In 1982 Chebel obtained a doctorate in anthropology, ethnology and science of religions at Jussieu. In 1984 he earned a doctorate in political science and later worked at the Sorbonne.

Chebel, who established the Foundation for an Enlightened Islam in France in 2004, published some 20 books on Islam, in which he addressed many sensitive subjects, such as eroticism. He condemned the strict fundamentalist approach to relations between men and women. He has also tackled such taboos as wine and homosexuality in Islam. His publications include a Love Dictionary of Islam (Plon, 2004) and an Encyclopedia of Love in Islam (Payot, 1995). His other main focus is reform of Islam, to which he has dedicated two major books: Islam and Reason: The Struggle of Ideas (Perrin, 2005), and Manifesto for an Enlightened Islam: 27 Propositions for Reforming Islam (Hachette, 2004).

 

 

Pope receives French Muslim leaders at the Vatican

 

 

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) met with Pope Francis on November 3. The meeting was organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, which brings together 200 leaders from different religions.

The delegation was accompanied by Michel Dubost, the Bishop of Evry and president of the Council for Interreligious Relations of the Bishops’ Conference of France, and Vincent Feroldi, director of National Services for Islam Relations (SNRM).

It’s not the first time French Muslim leaders have met with the current Pope. A delegation was received by the Vatican in January 2015, which coincided with the the Paris attacks. The most recent meeting follows the terror attack in July, when a priest, Jacque Hamel, was murdered in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

The meeting came with “highly symbolic significance, to send a message of harmony and fraternity,” said the CFCM president.

 

One year after attacks, French Muslims speak

One year after the November 2015 Paris attacks Le Monde published a collection of thoughts and commentaries from France’s Muslims. Glimpses into their lives reveal anxiety, sadness, hope and defiance, among other sentiments.

“I felt like half of a citizen,” said Tahar Mouci, who owns a bar in the 20th arrondissement.

“The Monday following the attacks I found out that I was assigned to house arrest under the State of Emergency,” recalls Anis M., a truck driver from Nice.

“I decided to enlist in the Army Reserves,” said Habiba M., while Louiza A. remembers her professor pointing to her veil and asking “what’s that for?” following the November 2015 attacks.

Click here to read the complete article.

Four mosques closed for ‘promoting radical ideology’ in France

Four mosques in France have been closed after many people who attended them reportedly joined extremist movements. The places of worship, French officials said Wednesday, promoted violence and ideologies that ran contrary to French values.

The closures were made via a national state of emergency that was initiated following terrorist attacks, including one in November of last year in Paris that killed 130 people plus the seven terrorist attackers.

“Under the guise of ritual ceremonies, these places [harbored] meetings aimed at promoting radical ideology, [which is] contrary to the values of the [French] Republic and may constitute a serious risk to security and public order,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. He said that the mosques had spread “hatred and violence.”

The interior minister also reaffirmed the country’s commitment to “allow the peaceful coexistence of all [places of] worship in compliance with the laws of the Republic.”

The crackdown on the four mosques comes after a July announcement that the government was considering a temporary ban on foreign financing for mosques.

‘Cut beard or leave’: French high school student told his beard is ‘sign of radicalization’

A student of a French high school was threatened with expulsion after he refused to comply with the headmaster’s demand to shave his beard, which the headmaster considered a “sign of radicalization.”

“You cut it or you leave,” the headmaster reportedly told the student. The head teacher also reportedly claimed that the student’s beard is an apparent “sign of radicalization.”

When the headmaster first asked the student to shave or shorten his facial hair, the young man, 21, explained that he had been cultivating his beard for two years for religious reasons.

“The Prophet [Muhammed] was wearing one. It is something important to me,” the student, who wanted to remain unidentified out of fear of “being stigmatized even more.”

He also added that the head teacher’s “threats put pressure” on him and he “ended up” writing a letter to inform him that he was leaving the school. According to Le Parisien, the student has not attended school since October 13.

“He [the headmaster] gave me a few days for reflection to see if I change my mind and shave [the beard]… but I will not!” the student said. The student, who is a son of an atheist and a non-practicing Muslim, also admitted that he used to miss classes to go to Friday prayers, and said that he avoided shaking hands with his schoolmates for reasons of “decency.”

He also said that he used to wear harem pants – a sort of clothing common among Muslims – but stopped wearing them at headmaster’s request, as he agreed that it could be a religious sign. However, he still defends his right to sport a beard.

“I am not the only one with a beard, both among students and teachers,” he said. In the meantime, the young man received support from his classmates. “It looks like it was the parents who complained to the headmaster. Everything is mixed up!” one girl said.

The incident took place in the Parisian northern suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, where some of the terrorists, who were involved in the Paris attacks in November 2015, were living.

 

 

Cell of French women behind failed Notre Dame attack

A cell of radicalized French women guided by Islamic State commanders in Syria was behind a failed terrorist attack near Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral last weekend and planned another violent attack this week before they were intercepted by police, the Paris prosecutor has said.

The women, aged 19, 23 and 39, were arrested in Boussy-Saint-Antoine, a small town 30km southeast of Paris, on Thursday night after they were linked to the discovery of a car packed with gas cylinders parked near the cathedral last weekend. Officials said the women had been planning an imminent violent attack on the busy Gare de Lyon station in Paris and were stopped after a police and intelligence operation described as a “race against time”.

 

The car had no plates and was left with indicators flashing in a narrow alley. From the insurance sticker on the car, police traced it back to a father of five daughters originally from the Seine-Saint-Denis area north of Paris.

One of the daughters, aged 19, who was named by news agencies as Ines Madani, was known to intelligence agencies and had been on a radicalisation watchlist for her wish to leave to join jihadis in Syria. At the time the car was found, she had been missing from home for several days.

Police on Thursday traced Madani and two other women to a flat in Boussy-Saint-Antoine in the Essonne area south of Paris. They arrested the three women when they left the flat. During the arrest, one of the women stabbed a police officer with a large kitchen knife, and Madani jumped on another officer attempting to stab him. The police opened fire and Madani was injured. When she was arrested, Madani had the keys to the Peugeot 607 in her handbag and a note pledging her allegiance to Isis and a reproduction of an Isis text vowing “we will attack you on your territory to attack your spirits and terrorise you”. Isis propaganda was found on her computer at her home.

A 15-year-old girl, who is the daughter of one of the three women arrested, Amel S, was separately detained on Friday morning in Clichy-sous-Bois, north of Paris. The prosecutor said the teenager could have been implicated in the planned terrorist attack.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, had said of the three women detained on Thursday that they were “radicalised and fanaticised” and believed to have been preparing “new and imminent violent action”. He said there had been a “race against time” to stop them, involving a vast police and intelligence operation.

“France is confronted with a terrorist threat of unprecedented scale,” he added. The changing threat took different forms and was very hard to detect, he added, calling for the “vigilance of all citizens”.

The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, said one of the women arrested, who he referred to as Sarah H, aged 23, had been engaged at different times to two French extremists who themselves had carried out deadly attacks this year.

She had been engaged to Larossi Abballa, who in June murdered a police commander and his police officer partner at their home in Magnanville outside Paris in the presence of their three-year-old son. He filmed the aftermath on Facebook Live before dying in a police raid. She was also betrothed to Adel Kermiche, who slit the throat of an elderly French priest during morning mass in Normandy in July. Her current fiancé was arrested on Thursday, Molins said.

The prosecutor said the cell of women terrorists showed that Islamic State “intends to make women into fighters”. He said that if women had previously been “confined to family and domestic tasks” by the militant group, that vision was now strongly out of date. “Their aim was to commit an attack,” he said of the women.

The group’s first attempted attack involved parking a Peugeot 607 car packed with gas cylinders near the cathedral in the heart of Paris and trying to blow it up. The car was also found to have contained diesel canisters and a barely-smoked cigarette had been thrown into the car near a canister with traces of hydrocarbons. Molins said the perpetrators had clearly tried to blow the car up and if they had succeeded it would have led to the explosion of the whole vehicle.

The car had no plates and was left with indicators flashing in a narrow alley. From the insurance sticker on the car, police traced it back to a father of five daughters originally from the Seine-Saint-Denis area north of Paris.

One of the daughters, aged 19, who was named by news agencies as Ines Madani, was known to intelligence agencies and had been on a radicalisation watchlist for her wish to leave to join jihadis in Syria. At the time the car was found, she had been missing from home for several days.

Police on Thursday traced Madani and two other women to a flat in Boussy-Saint-Antoine in the Essonne area south of Paris. They arrested the three women when they left the flat. During the arrest, one of the women stabbed a police officer with a large kitchen knife, and Madani jumped on another officer attempting to stab him. The police opened fire and Madani was injured. When she was arrested, Madani had the keys to the Peugeot 607 in her handbag and a note pledging her allegiance to Isis and a reproduction of an Isis text vowing “we will attack you on your territory to attack your spirits and terrorise you”. Isis propaganda was found on her computer at her home.

A 15-year-old girl, who is the daughter of one of the three women arrested, Amel S, was separately detained on Friday morning in Clichy-sous-Bois, north of Paris. The prosecutor said the teenager could have been implicated in the planned terrorist attack.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, had said of the three women detained on Thursday that they were “radicalised and fanaticised” and believed to have been preparing “new and imminent violent action”. He said there had been a “race against time” to stop them, involving a vast police and intelligence operation.

“France is confronted with a terrorist threat of unprecedented scale,” he added. The changing threat took different forms and was very hard to detect, he added, calling for the “vigilance of all citizens”.

The French president, François Hollande, said: “There’s a group that has been annihilated, but there are others. Information we were able to get from our intelligence services allowed us to act before it was too late.’’

Speaking on Friday morning, an interior ministry official told Reuters: “An alert has been issued to all stations, but they had planned to attack the Gare de Lyon on Thursday.”

The train station, one of the busiest in Paris, is in the south-east of the capital.

The discovery of the Peugeot 607 near Notre Dame carrying seven gas cylinders, six of them full, led to a terrorism investigation and revived fears about further attacks in a country where Islamic militants have killed more than 230 people since January 2015.

Several people have been arrested and questioned in the case of the car of gas cylinders. A 27-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman were detained on Wednesday south of Paris and a second couple, a 34-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman, were detained on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, Florence Berthout, the mayor of Paris’s fifth arrondissement, said the discovery of the car highlighted the need to increase security in the French capital. “Police and army staffing must be stepped up,” she told news channel BFMTV.

The vehicle was left in a zone where parking is strictly prohibited and had remained there for about two hours before it came to the attention of police after being reported by a waiter at a nearby restaurant, she said.

Thousands of extra police and soldiers have been deployed to protect sensitive sites across France. A state of emergency declared after the coordinated attacks on Paris last November remains in place and gives police extra search and arrest powers, but there has been a continuing political debate about security levels since 85 people were killed when a man driving a lorry ploughed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on 14 July in Nice.

France’s choice of non-Muslim to lead French Islam foundation causes controversy

The appointment of French politician Jean-Pierre Chevènement to head the newly formed Foundation for Islam in France, which aims to improve relations between the state and the Muslim community, has sparked controversy in many French circles.

Chevènement, a former French interior minister, was chosen to head the Foundation for Islam in France Monday following a meeting between current Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Muslim community leaders in Paris.

Announcing the decision Monday, Cazeneuve said the aim of the discussions was to forge “an Islam anchored in the values of the French Republic”.

But the choice of Chevènement, a 77-year-old career politician whose past posts include defence as well as interior minister, was greeted with skepticism by many activists and community leaders.

“It’s a joke,” civil rights activist Yasser Louati, whose work focuses on issues of Islamophobia and national security said. “We keep treating Muslims as if they are foreign people who need to be disciplined.”

The problem with this foundation and similar ones that came before it, Louati argued, is that it was established by the government. For such an organisation to succeed, it needs a bottom-up, and not a top-down approach, he said. The community should have been asked about how they wanted the initiative to be structured and who they wanted to head it. As it stands, “it is bound to fail,” he said.

Louati was also critical about Chevènement’s appointment. “It is like me appointing Ronald Reagan to head up African-American affairs,” he said.

Ghaleb Bencheikh, an author and expert on Islam, who will sit on the organisation’s board, said that while a Muslim president for the foundation would have been “ideal”, Chevènement is an acceptable choice in the short-term, when the main aim is to get the project up and running.

Bencheikh said there is no obvious consensus option from within the community at the time being, and that Chevènement will serve a transitional role.

Chevènenement is not without credibility within the community, Bencheikh added. He was a disciple of noted French Arabist Jacques Berque, he has travelled extensively in the Arab world, he was president of the France-Algeria Association and he resigned from his position as minister of defence in protest at his nation’s involvement in the first Gulf War.

But Chevènement has already ruffled feathers by saying that Muslims should be “discreet” and try to blend in. He also said that there were 135 nationalities in a racially diverse suburb of Paris, but one has almost disappeared, referring to French nationals.

The implication that the French nationals living in Saint-Denis, many of them of North African origin, are somehow not French prompted officials in the northern Parisian suburb to write to President Hollande, asking him to renounce Chevènement’s appointment.

Bencheikh said that in the aftermath of the recent terror attacks in the country, something needed to be done. France was faced with a choice over what kind of Islam it wanted: a tolerant, open Islam or the Islam of violence and jihad. Bencheikh believes the foundation will help promote the former.

 

A Muslim Community in Virginia Feels the Heat of Extremists’ Sins

It was a Friday Prayer like any other at the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg until the warning came from the imam. Less than a week after the Orlando, Fla., nightclub massacre by an American-born Muslim, and after Donald J. Trump’s renewed call to bar Muslims from entering the United States, Imam Hilal Shah told his congregation to stay vigilant for violence against their families and community.
“We’re fearful of a backlash,” Imam Shah called out through the speakers as he mentioned other attacks by Muslim extremists in Paris and in San Bernardino, Calif. “Anytime an event takes place such as what happened in France, such as what happened in San Bernardino, such as in Orlando, we as a Muslim community feel scared.”