OLIVIER HANNE | THE WEICHERT REPORT
*This text was submitted to us in French and translated.
Since the great successes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS) in 2014 and the series of spectacular attacks in France in 2015, the phenomenon of religious radicalization (supposedly the origin of the jihadism), has been particularly studied. Despite the uncertainties, between 2014 and 2016, nearly 2,000 French people were involved in jihadist networks in Syria and Iraq. This figure is to be compared with the 4,609 reports for radicalization in France (according to police and prefectures). But, in reality, it is estimated that almost 10,000 French are radicalized (a fact that has gone mostly unreported). In February 2016, the number of reports had risen to 8,250, following the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Is there a radical threat?
The profiles are so varied that it is difficult to give typical portraits: minors represent 25% of cases, women 27%, people reported are rather young (between 16 and 30 years), their educational level is generally low, even if there are graduates. Most of them work. The Internet represents a common point of radicalization,and serves as a tool for ideological reinforcement. Although, the sharing of jihadist content on the Internet does not have the same function for a connected teenager, a convinced salafist, or an experienced fighter in Syria.
Obviously, the attraction for religious radicalism is not necessarily linked to a phenomenon of social rupture. The difficulties of contemporary society and individual frustrations create a breeding ground, but not at all decisive. According to Safia Bannani:
“In Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, more than 40% of young people are unemployed, but the people concerned by the jihadist networks are only 30 out of 30,000 inhabitants.”
The religious dimension remains essential, because radicalization is a “passage”, a personal conversion and a break with the past.
The eradication of ISIS in the Middle East will not mean the end of the radical phenomenon. Indeed, jihadists returning with a european nationality will have “to be treated.” These people will have to face public condemnation, imprisonment, or police surveillance for those who will agree to give up arms. Still, how can we eradicate the mentalities that have pushed these people to Syria in the first place? How does our society gain sincere repentance from these returning fighters? How to reintegrate the wives who have been the allies of ISIS’s propaganda? Not to mention the children, deeply marked by the parental model.
“According to David Thomson, the veterans of Syria return tired or disappointed, but few repent.”
It isn’t just the French government that is concerned about radicalization. In many private French companies, corporate leaders worry about a similar related issue of terrorism. In May 2015, the Randstad Institute published, in conjunction with Sciences Po-Rennes, the results of a study carried out by its Observatory of Religious Facts in Enterprises. Based on a sample of 1333 people, this work showed that 61.8% of those interviewed are classified as “believers.” On the whole, 63.2% declared themselves Catholic, 5.1% Muslim, 2.6% Protestant. This means that religious identity is still strong in France. Moreover, the study revealed that for 12% of the people, the religious fact was a recurring subject in company, but that it was a problem only in 3% of the cases met. Religion would therefore not be a conflictual factor.
The results leave little room for doubt, since the three quarters of the difficulties evoked by the inquiry belong to Islam: absence for religious festivals, prayers during working hours or during breaks, refusal to work with a woman. So Islam would only bring 5% of employees but 80% of the problems? The thoughtlessness of the study allows for much conjecture. Surprisingly, the 2015 attacks in France increased the number of conversions to Islam and sales of the Koran. In January 2015, the Grand Mosque of Paris registered 44 conversion certificates, twice as many as the year before. At the same time, the number of converts gained 30% at the mosque of Aubervilliers.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the majority of Muslims do not contest the social and professional habits of Europe, but a minority ostensibly adopts Islamism, the ideological movement that wants to impose Islam in French law, society and society. This movement leads to attitudes and beliefs that slip into provocation, proselytism or misogyny. These militants are the heirs of Salafiyya, or “Salafism”, a reform movement born at the end of the 19th century in Egypt, which sought to regenerate Islam by returning to the tradition represented by the “al-Salaf” (Al-Salih).
Faced with the state of subordination of Muslim societies, Salafism proposes a return to pure faith, a reminder of the absolute uniqueness of God and a scrupulous practice of worship. Salafism created a political movement, the first of which was the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928. For him, Islam is a perfect, revealed order that structures the whole of collective life. The Brothers make social development: mass literacy, schooling of girls, creation of dispensaries. Politically, al-Banna has confidence in the intelligence of the masses and accepts the electoral system to create a Muslim state: “The Koran is our constitution”.
The Salafist temptation can not only affect French society, but also French companies. This temptation makes it possible to compensate for the humiliations experienced every day, in family life, business, social and friendly relations. The lost memories of the Umma and the medieval caliphate are exhumed to affirm that, in former times, women were virtuous, that piety reigned, that Islam was respected, and so on. By applying to the letter the ritual rules described in Sharia and Sunnah, the radicalized person finds a sense of authenticity and truth that justifies his existence under the gaze of God.
Actually, in the professional world, this posture is impossible, because the opportunities to break the Islamic sacredness are innumerable. An employee who would scrupulously respect the distinction between licit and illicit would inevitably have to resign, or be hired only in denominational enterprises (restaurants, butchers, etc.). Managers are mainly confronted with people whose religious attitude evolves gradually, rather than those employees who are already radical.
The most violent situation that the company can encounter is the example of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier (Isère), June 26, 2015, when Yassin Salhi beheaded his boss. The murder appeared to be a terrorist act. The perpetrator was a Muslim fundamentalist who was previously entered in the S register of personalities to be monitored. He killed this man in the middle of Ramadan, following the orders of ISIS. Yet, in this case, Salhi’s victim was his employer on a chemical site belonging to the American company Air Products. A fight with his boss pushed him toward extremism, which French authorities refuse to describe as a terrorist act. The company may therefore be confronted with ambiguous situations, where Islamism mixes with a conflict at work.
2. The deradicalization tests
In 2002, French states that were overwhelmed by the sudden rise in the confluence of mental instability and radicalism supported initiatives that they believed would allay the Salafist violence in France. They created the Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires. In April 2014, an association founded the Centre de prévention contre les dérives sectaires liées à l’islam (CPDSI), which was represented in the media by Dounia Bouzar. All the proposed solutions were gathered through an “anti-jihad plan” and the anti-terrorist law of 13 November 2014. In Denmark, the city of Aarhus set up a social tutoring program in 2007 to accompany the targets in their daily lives and to reinsert them into civil society. In April 2015, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced the opening of a dozen centers for the prevention of radicalization. One of them opened in June 2016 in Pontourny, near Tours (Indre-et-Loire), where some thirty young people between 18 and 30 are welcomed for 10 months by mixed teams (police officers, psychologists, social workers, even theologians and religious). The target audience, however, is not people who have gone to Syria, who may be charged by a criminal court. In some prisons, as well as in Osny (Val-d’Oise), awareness groups have been organized for voluntary detainees, but their effects are modest. Meanwhile, the proselytizing leaders are isolated from other prisoners, too sensitive to radical propaganda.
The authorities are trying to face a multifaceted radicalization. All those responsible for these programs admit that the processes are long and complex; they require individual support and multidisciplinary teams. What is their purpose? “Preventing action, framing, training, re-socializing those people who are ideologically separated from our society, so that they can become full citizens again”, or to “modify, neutralize ideologies, ideals of armed struggle”. To do this, the programs are constantly adapted, people go into an open environment (prefectures, associations), in a semi-closed center, or even in prison.
More modestly, official websites have been created and offer technical sheets against radicalization and terrorism. But their content is often simple, even manichaean. Thus on the French site stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr, a banner headed “Jihadist Radicalization, the first signs that can alert” states: “they are suspicious of their old friends, as they are considered impure”; “they [the person being radicalized] suddenly change their eating habits”; “they no longer listen to music”; “they no longer watch television and no longer go to the cinema”.
The effectiveness of these schemes has been highly contested since 2015, because some have benefited from public funds. The personality of Dounia Bouzar, her methods and her results have attracted criticism in the press. Individuals through de-radicalization programs have been totally impervious to their citizen speech, and have hidden their ideological resistance by the islamic concept of taqiya. A young 17-year-old from Lyon, involved in a planned attack on a synagogue, was arrested in January 2016 after a session with the CPDSI.
The methods used are derisory in the face of too ambitious objectives. The prefecture cells are composed of overloaded agents. The associations involved do not have the same compulsory power as the public institutions. Finally, the effectiveness of the testimony of victims of terrorism faced by extremist individuals is doubtful.
Perhaps ambitions were disproportionate: “resocialize”, “help young people to regain their free will” (according to the prefect of Indre-et-Loire), to restore a sense of identity. The vocabulary vacillates between the social, the societal, the cultural and even the philosophical vision. Do we know where we are going? Many experts believe that the answer must go beyond the security framework, but the project of reinsertion seems limitless, especially as the boundaries between radicals, delinquents and jihadists are often blurred. Since the radicalization is suborned by the Internet, is it necessary to impose a weaning of the Net? An education for social networks?
Within the companies, we advocate a reminder of the republican law, and even, in doubtful cases, the “living together” and the “values of the company”, even if it means signing ethical charters to employees, with the support Trade union organizations. But the legal framework often seems incomplete in the light of the issues and concerns expressed.
A group of senior French officials – called Plessis – even made proposals to fight against Islamism. Some were common sense, such as controlling the preaching or funding of Muslim associations. Others were more questionable, such as the idea that the State should organize the Islam of France, extending the powers of the CFCM (Conseil français du culte musulman), giving approval for Koranic teaching, or appointing a “great mufti of the Republic”.
3. Conversion, Salafism and Jihadism
For many researchers, such as Olivier Roy and Mohssin el-Ghabri, jihadism is not a Salafism that would swing into armed violence, but an identity malaise masked by violence already acquired, which then disguises itself with religious arguments. It was thus possible to speak of the Islamization of violence. “They are first radical and then religious, and not the other way around,” says Mohssin el-Ghabri. Such an interpretation, however, fails to exonerate Muslim history and theology, and does not explain why Christianity and Buddhism do not lead to the same “brutalization”. According to this analysis, de-radicalization would be primarily to combat social violence.
It is certain that the Salafist currents did not provide massive support for ISIS’s jihadism. In fact, Salafism is a rigorous, but quietist Muslim movement. The Salafist wishes to live a pure and integral Islam within the framework of the family and the community. This movement, similar to the Pakistani Tabligh, is distinct from political commitment, so that the Salafists are rarely linked to the Muslim Brothers, who form a political movement.
Salafist ethics preaches a peaceful man (“Muslim”, in the etymological sense of the term), united to his group, anxious for his family, fleeing agitation. There is no inaccessible requirement. “Let no one seek to be too strict in the observance of religion,” says a hadith, “otherwise he will succumb to the task.” Faith is very close to ethics, the inner behavior is modeled on external attitudes. This mentality is a true renunciation of oneself. The faithful forgets himself to set foot in those of Muhammad, who preceded him and shows him the way. In such a mentality, mockery of Muhammad, and even more insult, is considered a totally prohibited blasphemy:
Those who offend Allah and his messenger, Allah curses them down here, as in the Hereafter, and prepares for them a degrading punishment (Surah 33, verse 57).
Most Muslim commentators, however, state that only God does the punishment, and that no one on earth must avenge the flouted honor of the prophet. The assassination of cartoonists Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 would thus have no justification in the tradition. However, a hadith says that Mohammed was insulted by a man who hated him.
The prophet asked:
-Who can get rid of Kaab ibn Ashraf?
-Do you want me to kill him?” asked a companion.
-Yes, said the prophet.
And the man was killed soon after.
This explains why the demonstrations of 11 January in favor of freedom of the press did not generate unanimous support fromMuslims.
The world of work follows rules of behavior between men and women that French culture considers courteous and civil. Yet they are not experienced as such by the Salafists. Thus, hadith excludes physical contact with women:
When the believers came to join the prophet, he tested them (…). By God, I swear that the hand of the prophet never touched that of one of these women. By God I swear that he never had any other behavior towards them than that prescribed by God (al-Bukhârî, Sahîh, no 5288).
This passage concerns mainly lascivious contacts between men and women who are not unmarried, and not merely involuntary touches. However, the ban is clear. We understand the repulsion of some faithful to the idea of shaking the hand of a Western woman, certainly Christian or atheist, perhaps in concubinage, and therefore in a state of prostitution! If she is menstruating, man loses even the benefit of his prayer. If he is in physical contact, he risks removing the halal certification from all the animals he has sacrificed.
Traditional Muslim ethics have little to do with Western ethics. They are not opposed, but cohabit more or less well. It all depends on the degree of religious scruple of the employee, his knowledge of the Sunnah, his ability to adapt ritual regulations. Age also plays: the difficulty of applying in a secularized society all the prescriptions of halal and haram removes young people from mosques and practice, even if they return there once married, or after the death a parent, a pilgrimage or an awareness in middle age, when choosing to educate children in a religion. The political context is often also important: an attack in Syria or France, an Israeli attack on a Muslim country, an unveiled woman, or a caricature against Mohammed, is enough to wake up a sleeping religious identity.
These salafist mentalities influence jihadism, but they remain different in thought and in facts. Radicalization involves in varying degrees and in incomparable forms the sympathizers of Salafism and the partisans of ISIS’s jihadism. Some are primarily religious, while others are supported by the will to power, by political, social and religious factors. Salafists represent a complete alternative to European civilization, but not a security danger, and the answer to their ideology can only be cultural, unless all European law is changed.
To understand the radical phenomenon, it must be remembered that the term itself is totally inappropriate in Islamology. We never speak of radicalization in Islam. It is above all a conversion. Sura 9, called Al-Tawba (“The Return”), defines this conversion as a return to God:
“The first [believers] among the Emigrants and the Auxiliaries and those who followed them in beautiful behavior, Allah accepts them, and they agree Him. He has prepared for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, and they shall abide therein. Here is the huge success” [9, 100].
After a life of disorder, the sincere believer turns to his Lord and decides not to disobey him any more. This tawba effaces his faults, if at least he has the firm intention of no longer falling, and of repairing injustice. If he turns back, he becomes an apostate (Murtadin), a crime that deserves hell. The process of conversion affects both Muslim and non-Muslim individuals. Both decide to obey the imperative of aslama, that is to say to islamize or to re-islamize, to submit to God. For them, deradicalization would mean a form of treason, a return to the initial state of sin, and therefore apostasy.
Most converts choose Salafism rather than a more tolerant Islam movement such as Malikism or even Sufism. In fact, Salafism proposes an inner and demanding way, while the Malikism is considered compromised with the Republic, institutional and not very dynamic. To turn to God must necessarily be a process that transforms the whole being and creates a major break in life, which does not seem to be allowed by the Malikism.
4. An Ethical Issue
Islam has fourteen centuries of existence. It was born and grew up divided. As soon as the Prophet died, a multitude of branches clashed to determine the true nature of Islam, giving rise to Shiism, Kharidjism and Sunnism. As early as the 8th-9th century, understanding the rules of Islam led to the development of different schools of thought and law – the maddhab – whose purpose was to interpret the Qur’anic message and narratives about the Prophet, and to apply them as best as possible to new societies. This ijtihad, this search for both community and personal adaptation, has always been at the heart of Muslim intellectual and doctrinal identity. It has provided Islam with its richest, most audacious texts. The ijtihad still enriches today the ways of thought of most of the Muslims of the Maghreb and France: no believer, no scientist has a perfectly definitive and generalizable answer to all questions, and only knowledge and piety are the authentic ways for the faith. Certainly, the Salafist currents claim to have this unique and ultimate answer, and try to impose it. But they encounter the opposition of the majority and the ingrained traditions of Malikite Islam.
In the name of which religious authority, would the Republic efface 14 centuries of ijtihad to impose its vision of Islam? Despite the violence of the secular battles between 1901 and 1906, the Republic never claimed to define Catholic dogma or the organization of the Church. Why would it define Islam and its structures? To deal with terrorism and Salafism?
The issue is intelligence and judicial review. Is the Islam of France divided? It has not been less since the creation of the CFCM in 1995. On the contrary, the associations that compose it are still divided and even compete for power and prebends. The risk is great that the imams participating in a reinforced CFCM are somewhat more discredited to the faithful, isolated, and therefore not at all representative.
The confusion of the genres is permanent around the deradicalization. The vocabulary proposed on the site stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr draws a portrait of the candidates that can be applied to any sectarian or even alternative group: “They withdraw into themselves, hold antisocial remarks, reject any form Authority, or life in community “. Such a definition applied to Islamism is questionable when we know the solidarity displayed by the radical groups and their obedience to a religious ethics. The deradicalization purpose define between the lines the Western positive model: a world of leisure, consumption, personal and professional fulfillment. The vocabulary of radicalization masks the rejection of this cultural model. The public authorities are reluctant to call their objective by its real name: mental reconditioning.
The danger of deradicalization lies in the growing intrusions of the State. In seeking to reintegrate, State penetrates into the spiritual intimacy of individuals in order to redefine the religious and give it an acceptable place. Now, is the State competent to define what is Islam, “good” Islam? Can State deny that the Prophet Muhammad himself was a warrior and that it does not have to justify or invalidate Muslim history? Using the words of Islamism – jihad, taqiya, mujahidin … – political leaders adopt the keys to reading the world of the enemy and validate his perception of politics. They thus mean that the identification of the crime is outside the legal framework. Unaware of the threat, the State is tempted to be ubiquitous, without having the legal capacity to do so. Deradicalization could be an intellectual posture.
The problem undoubtedly comes from the hesitations of the vocabulary. After all, what is radicalization? Farhad Khosrokhavar mentions two conditions to this process: an ideology and violent actions, and Pierre Conesa speaks of “intellectual, philosophical and religious legitimation of the passage to violence“, two definitions that completely neglect the religious aspect and Islam. In the fourteenth century, the word “radical” in French had the same meaning as radical in English: “complete, absolute”. From the nineteenth century it was used to designate British political parties demanding liberal democratic reform. Transferred as such to France, it was applied to the left, secular and liberal parties that wanted to reform society. The verb “radicalize” was used regularly in the years 1960-1970 in a political sense with the idea of “becoming more intransigent, harder” or “more extreme“. The first meaning was therefore political and not necessarily negative. Deradicalizing was a synonym for “compromising”. Applied to Islamism, the verb imposes a complete redefinition of terms: from when does one judge an intransigent or extreme Islam? By what standard? To what average? If radicalization is a conversion, deradicalization imposes a second ontological conversion. But what? Can one convert to secularism or the Republic?
Olivier Hanne is a Doctor of History. He is a researcher at the Aix-Marseille and teaches at the prestigious French military school known as Saint-Cyr’s. Hanne is also an accomplished author, with several books published on the Middle Ages, religious mentalities, as well the history and geopolitics of Islam.