Human Rights Watch criticizes France’s counterterrorism bill

Counter-terrorism legislation proposed by the French government will “normalize abusive practices,” undermine personal freedoms, and may fuel prejudice against the Muslim minority, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.

A bill presented last week would enshrine curbs on fundamental rights in law if approved by parliament, the rights group said.

Newly-elected President Emmanuel Macron wants the legislation to replace temporary emergency powers in place since Islamist militants attacked Paris in 2015.

 “Instead of truly ending France’s 19-month temporary state of emergency, the government is making some of its far-reaching powers permanent, but with little effective court oversight,” HRW’s Kartik Raj said.

“France needs to find a way to end its state of emergency without normalizing abusive practices.”

France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, has grappled with a response to homegrown jihadists and foreign militants following attacks that have killed more than 230 people since early 2015.

The draft bill envisages extending police powers to stop and search people or conduct house searches. The law would also give officials more discretion in deciding when to invoke a risk of terrorism as justification for curbs on freedoms.

Mr. Macron has assured the European Court of Human Rights the legislation would respect public freedoms.

“As the text stands, it [the law] could, for instance, be used arbitrarily to prohibit any meeting at which ideas or theological concepts associated with conservative interpretations of Islam, such as Salafism, are expressed regardless of whether there is any demonstrable connection to criminal activity,” HRW said.

“Poorly worded laws that are likely to lead to closing solely Muslim places of worship may also help feed anti-Muslim rhetoric and prejudice prevalent in wider society,” it said.

Several mosques have been shut temporarily under the state of emergency, imposed after Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in a concert hall and restaurants and bars in Paris in November 2015.

Canadians form ‘rings of peace’ around mosques after Quebec shooting

Hundreds across Canada gathered around mosques to form protective barriers – described by organisers as “human shields” and “rings of peace” – as Muslims in the country marked their first Friday prayers since a gunman shot dead six men who were praying at a Quebec mosque.

“No Canadian should be afraid to go to their house of worship to pray,” Yael Splansky, the rabbi behind the effort to set up “rings of peace” around Toronto mosque told the Canadian Press.  “It’s a terrifying scene. Imagine people of faith going to pray in peace, to pray for peace, and to be at risk. Houses of worship are sacred and must be protected.”

But reports emerged of a mosque that had been vandalised just miles from where the funeral was taking place. A window at the Khadijah Masjid Islamic Centre had been smashed and the front door splattered with eggs, in an act described as “terrorism” by one city councillor.

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.

France has closed twenty mosques since December

French authorities shut down 20 mosques and prayer halls they found to be preaching radical Islamic ideology since December, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Monday.

“Fight against the #radicalization: since December 2015, twenty Muslim places of worship have been closed,” the Interior Ministry tweeted.

Of the country’s 2,500 mosques and prayer halls, approximately 120 of them have been suspected by French authorities of preaching radical Salafism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam.

“There is no place … in France for those who call for and incite hatred in prayer halls or in mosques, and who don’t respect certain republican principles, notably equality between men and women,” Cazeneuve said, adding, “That is why I took the decision a few months ago to close mosques through the state of emergency, legal measures or administrative measures. About 20 mosques have been closed, and there will be others.”

The announcement came days after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called for a temporary ban on foreign funding of French mosques.

Cazeneuve also announced Monday that French authorities would be working with the French Council of the Muslim Faith to launch a foundation to help finance mosques within France.

“By October, a foundation will be created to finance the cultural aspect of cultural institutions and scholarships for secular education #islam,” he tweeted.

 

Nathalie Goulet discusses foreign financing and recent Senate report (pdf)

Following the recent attacks on French soil several politicians have proposed measures to reform Islam’s structure and the financing of Islam in France. For Nathalie Goulet, UDI senator from Orne who recently published a report on foreign financing, the priority should be to end the practice of ‘supplied’ imams and to establish a foundation to centralize Islam’s financing in France.

Le Monde: Foreign countries are often criticized for their influence on Islam in France. Is it true?

Nathalie Goulet: The influence of certain countries came as a great surprise to many when our report was published. But it’s not always those that we think that have the greatest presence. The Gulf countries are much less influential than the ‘countries of origin,’ Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey. These three states exercise a real influence by financing the construction of buildings and schools, imam training, and supplying imams for France’s mosques—who are paid by their countries of origin—and through the governance of the French Council of the Muslim Faith.

Le Monde: Manuel Valls said he was in favor of a temporary suspension of financing from foreign countries. Do you agree?

Goulet: The Prime Minister speaks of suspending foreign financing, but who will be their replacements? While one could hope that there would be no more foreign financing, it would be a mistake to think that the problem could be solved just like that. The question of foreign financing is ancillary. The Louvre or the Arab World Institute also receive foreign funding, in a transparent manner. Before anything, we must work to end the practice of ‘supplied’ imams who are trained in Morocco.

Le Monde: According to the report there are 301 imams sent from other countries for around 2,500 places of worship. Where is the problem?

There are 301 opportunities, for French citizens of Muslim faith, to assist with sermons led by imams who are not French and from foreign countries. It’s more problematic than foreign funding of mosques. Imams sent from Turkey, for example, arrive under the title of “social workers” and not as imams. They barely speak French, have never seen an Armenian in their life, and don’t know that in France we recognize the Armenian Genocide. The majority of supplied imams have never received an education on the Holocaust, the death penalty, homophobia…they don’t know these important contextual references, but they play a role in communities.

Le Monde: Why is the question of financing critical?

Goulet: We consider Islam to be a religion like any other, but we don’t provide it with the means to be. Islam is a recent religion in our territory. There is a need for catch-up compared to other religions. The Muslim communities need structure, schools, mosques, and associations. Muslims need to be able to practice their religion decently.

Today, if a 14 year-old girl wants to wear the veil, she is going to find an Islamic school, but there are few. A Jewish child who wants to keep Kosher and wear a kippa will find a Jewish school. The tensions are more pronounced in Muslim communities because they don’t have all the tools to practice their religion.

Le Monde: What are the paths for financing Islam in France? What do you think about the idea of re-launching a ‘foundation of French Islam’ discussed by Manuel Valls?

Goulet: We must revive the Foundation for Islamic Works to monitor foreign funds. This foundation must have a joint government with a representative from the State Council and an accountant from the Treasury. We must also implement cost accounting so that Algerian money is used for Algerian places of worship, money from Morocco is used for Moroccan places of worship…it’s necessary if we want the communities to agree to this foundation. Algerians don’t want to pay for Turks, and vice versa, even if the idea of an Algerian place of worship makes no sense in France.

Le Monde: Julien Dray, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Francois Bayrou support instituting a “halal tax” to finance Islam in France.

Goulet: Legally, it’s impossible to institute a tax on a religious item…and technically, a ‘halal tax’ would also be impossible to institute in practice, because there is no consensus on the notion of halal.

What could be possible is that religious representatives themselves institute a private fee for services relating to slaughter, which would be set by the community, collected, and sent to the Foundation.

Le Monde: Aside from financing, is there a representation problem?

Goulet: Establishing the CFCM was necessary, there needs to be an interlocutor with the State. But throughout the years, this body has never succeeded in being representative. If I was president of the CFCM, I would open up a debate, I would establish constituent assembly to review the statutes, I would call on youths and members of associations, who may feel excluded, I would institute the principle of one man, one woman, one vote…But that must come from Muslims themselves. Maybe one day, young Muslims will launch an online petition and create a concurrent association.

 

 

 

 

Halal food tax proposed in France to fund mosques

Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), outlined plans for a new foundation that would help reduce foreign benefactors amid concerns over extremism.

The idea has been supported by politicians on both the right and left, although there are doubts where such a tax could be implemented.

“The idea has existed since the CFCM was founded,” Kbibech said.

“We have reached the first step with the signing with of a religious framework in the CFCM’s halal charter, which defines the criteria of halal in France.

“In autumn we will discuss the second part, which is the financial contribution of halal organisations to worship.”

The money raised would go towards paying imams’ salaries and funding the construction and operation of mosques, which cannot receive state support under French law.

The proposal came after Manuel Valls called for a ban on foreign funding for Muslim places of worship amid concerns over extremism following a string of terror attacks.

“There needs to be a thorough review to form a new relationship with French Islam,” he said.

“We live in a changed era and we must change our behaviour. This is a revolution in our security culture…the fight against radicalisation will be the task of a generation.”

Nathalie Goulet, a French senator for Orne who conducted a report on the issue, said the creation of a central and transparent foundation was a priority but cast doubt on a halal tax.

“Legally, it is not possible to reduce a tax on a religious item,” she said.

“And technically, a ‘halal tax’ would be impossible to implement because there is no unity around the concept of halal.

“What would be possible is that representatives of the religion themselves introduce a private fee for service at the time of slaughter, to be set by the community, collected and sent to the foundation.”

There has been continued controversy over the sale of halal food in France, with a supermarket in Colombes ordered to sell pork and alcohol or face closure this week.

Man who criticized church’s Ramadan message goes to mosque

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Pennsylvania politician who apologized for criticizing a church that posted a message wishing Muslims a “blessed Ramadan” attended a worship service and dined at a Harrisburg mosque.
School board member Matthew Jansen, invited to attend the Hadee Mosque on Friday, told members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that his remarks earlier were part of a “knee-jerk reaction.”
Jansen is a member of the Spring Grove Area School District, based in York County, in the Harrisburg area.

Michigan mosque takes in homeless Unitarian Church

(RNS) The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Lansing is getting a new church this spring — but not quite soon enough.

Hearing of construction lags and its neighbor’s need for a temporary home, a mosque in East Lansing offered up its worship space — for free.

“No charge whatsoever,” said the Rev. Kathryn Bert. “It’s been a lovely story to live. It has been a beautiful relationship.”

She’s an imam in LA and doesn’t have patience for a strict interpretation of Islam

Ani Zonneveld is an imam, and yes, also a woman. She qualifies that she is “an imam with a small “i” — though her reluctance to go with a capital “I” says more about her democratic approach to worship than any deference to Islamic tradition, one that has been and still is very male-dominated. She has no patience for that Islam.

Instead she founded a Muslim community — Muslims for

Credit: Arzeen Photography/Muslims for Progressive Values
Credit: Arzeen Photography/Muslims for Progressive Values

Progressive Values — that embraces gender equality, gay rights and interfaith marriage. And although it is based in Los Angeles, it has spread — often quietly — across the world.

Dutch Jewish-Muslim walk of solidarity in Amsterdam

The Dutch Jewish and Muslim communities have deceived upon a joint march for solidarity in Amsterdam as a symbol against hatred. Jews and Muslims will walk together from the synagogue at the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein until the Al Kabir mosque at Weesperzijde. At both houses of worship a ceremony of laying down flowers will be held.

By means of the march for solidarity the participants are resisting against aggression against synagogues and mosques, antisemitism and Muslim hatred, and are pleading for peace, respect, love, and friendship.

The dialogue organization

The dialogue organization Salaam-Shalom - brought into existence last year with the goal of bringing together Jews and Muslims - organizes the march together with the liberal Jewish community and the Al Kabir Mosque. According to the organizers non-Jews and non-Muslims are also welcome.
The dialogue organization Salaam-Shalom – brought into existence last year with the goal of bringing together Jews and Muslims – organizes the march together with the liberal Jewish community and the Al Kabir Mosque. According to the organizers non-Jews and non-Muslims are also welcome.

– brought into existence last year with the goal of bringing together Jews and Muslims – organizes the march together with the liberal Jewish community and the Al Kabir Mosque. According to the organizers non-Jews and non-Muslims are also welcome.