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France’s showdown with the Islamic world

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France’s showdown with the Islamic world

On Oct. 2, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a momentous speech in defense of secularism. In the address, he unveiled a plan to defend French secular values against “Islamic radicalism.”

Two weeks later, on Oct. 16, a French history teacher named Samuel Paty was decapitated in the street outside his school by an 18-year-old radical Islamist. The terrorist, a Russian-born teenager of Chechen heritage, succeeded in sending a deeply shocking message to supporters of laïcité, or French secularism: Islamic radicalism in France has no intention of going down without a fight.

The purported reason the murderer, Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov, targeted Paty was that the teacher had shown his students the cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad published by the satirical paper Charlie Hebdo in 2015—images that prompted the invasion of the paper’s offices and massacre of its journalists by Islamist fundamentalists. In his speech, Macron had stated that France would not “renounce the caricatures”—in other words, France stands firmly in support of freedom of speech and will not be cowed by terrorism.

Macron’s speech was almost immediately followed by accusations from Muslims both at home and abroad that Macron is Islamophobic and a racist. This furious response was especially strong in Turkey, as about half the imams in France are of Turkish descent.

In the speech, Macron attempted to be nuanced about how Islam and French secularism could be integrated. He unveiled a plan to defend French secular values against “Islamist radicalism,” adding that Islam was “in crisis” all over the world. He insisted that “no concessions” would be made in a new drive to push religion out of education and the public sector in France.

Macron said the measures were aimed at addressing the problem of growing “radicalization” in France and improving “our ability to live together.” He emphasized that “secularism is the cement of a united France,” but added that there is no sense in stigmatizing all Muslim believers.

Macron’s plan focuses on limiting the foreign influence and investing in a new generation of French imams, with a certification process based in France. He categorized “Islamist separatism” as a “parallel society” that threatens France by holding sharia law above French law, which “often results in the creation of a counter-society.” Macron said the government will submit legislation in December 2020 designed to “reinforce secularism and consolidate republican principles.”

A meaningful act that went under the radar occurred on July 7, when a French Senate Inquiry Commission, headed by French Senator Jacqueline Eustache-Brinio, presented a report entitled “Islamist Radicalization: Facing and Fighting Together”.

The report describes the situation in France this way:

“Islamist radicalism is not just about the issue of terrorism or transition to violent action, but also involves behaviors that can be peaceful and do not lead to violence. It may be the work of groups that advocate identity, withdrawal or entry into the associative and political world. …The groups that historically, like the Muslim Brotherhood, are active in France and seek to impose their views through networks of association seek recognition of authorities and, more recently, opt for integration in the electoral roll.

“Faced with the rise of Islamism, the authorities have focused, since 1995, on the terrorist threat and the obstruction of violent action. This concern has resulted in the setting in place of a complete legal arsenal and the structuring of interior security services so as to respond to the threat. But the problem now facing French society has changed its nature: It is a multiform Islamist reflecting himself in all aspects of social life and tending to impose a new social norm by prevailing [upon] individual freedom.”

Among the commission’s main proposals, the following should be emphasized:

  1. Know, follow, and prevent the actions of radical Islam.
  2. Continue to strengthen the human resources assigned to domestic intelligence, taking into account the multiplicity of missions allocated to it and the scope of geographical areas of its field of action. Ensure, as much as possible, a specialization [of] agents on the monitoring of radical Islam movements.
  3. Urgently set [up] an inter-ministerial committee for the prevention of radicalization, and set up departmental units to fight Islamism and evaluate radical activities.
  4. Since the Islamists seek to destabilize our society and gain recognition of their right to rule [according to] the Muslim faith, the response of the public authorities must above all avoid interfering in Muslim religious worship. Further, it is imperative to refrain from stigmatization of Islam, since there is no such thing as a unified Muslim community, nor is there a single Islam.

The Inquiry Commission refutes the idea that Islamic radicalism is only a reaction to “Islamophobia,” but states that challenging the values of the Republic by promoting sharia should not be tolerated.

It’s fair to assume that the Senate commission’s report inspired Macron’s rhetoric on Oct. 2. However, though his intentions were constructive, it appears that his delivery missed the target. The speech was distorted and instantly became a source of grievance across the Islamic world. At the forefront of the furious Islamic response was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkey is already embroiled in a number of disputes with France. These disputes—over Syria, Libya, NATO, gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, and Armenia—each have their own context and specifics, but they all stem from French suspicion of Erdoğan’s ambition to lead a Sunni Islamic revival.

Erdoğan seized on Macron’s speech as an opportunity to position himself as both leader and spokesman of the Arab and Islamic world. On Oct. 26, he sounded a call for the boycott of French goods, claiming: “It becomes more and more difficult to be a Muslim and live an Islamic lifestyle in Western countries.” He described Macron as mentally ill.

Erdoğan’s stirring up of Islamist ire has resonated across the Arab world. The French ambassador to Pakistan was summoned to condemn Macron’s alleged incitement of Islamophobia. From Sanaa to Riyadh, Macron has become a one-man axis of evil. French products are being boycotted. Le Train Bleu restaurant in Doha, Qatar’s “quintessential Parisian dining experience,” is hastily re-sourcing its products.

Several French Muslim intellectuals harshly criticized Macron on social media. One said “the president described Islam as ‘a religion that is in crisis all over the world today’. I don’t even know what to say. This remark is so dumb (sorry it is) that it does not need any further analysis … I won’t hide that I am concerned. No mention of white supremacy even though we are the country that exported the racist and white supremacist theory of the ‘great replacement’ used by the terrorist who committed the horrific massacre in Christchurch.”

Another was even tougher: “The repression of Muslims has been a threat, now it is a promise. In a one hour speech Macron buried laïcité, emboldened the far right, anti-Muslim leftists and threatened the lives of Muslim students by calling for drastic limits on home schooling despite a global pandemic.”

The New York Times was highly critical of Macron’s plans, writing of a “broad government crackdown against Muslim individuals and groups.” American sociologist Crystal Fleming, an expert on white supremacist groups, tweeted: “It is beyond sad to see French officials respond to violent extremism with violent extremism.”

President Macron thus finds himself in a very difficult position—not only vis-à-vis Islamists but also among his own Cabinet ministers. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin used the language of the hard right, describing France as fighting a “civil war” to defend the French secular and unitary Republic against the “separatist” teachings of extremist Islam. Darmanin suggested that ethnic food aisles in supermarkets be closed—in other words, punish innocent French Muslims as well as guilty ones. According to the investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchainé, Macron has asked Darmanin and other ministers to cool their language.

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Macron, who was elected president in 2017 following two years of bloody terror attacks in France, is heading into a 2022 election campaign, and expects to succeed where his predecessors failed. He might have bet on the wrong horse, however. Defeating radical Islam needs strong action, but Western governments must try to find a path of compromise to break the cycle of reaction and counter-reaction that creates more extremism and violence.

The French far-right leader Marine Le Pen sees no reason for prudence or tolerance toward Islamists in France. Her reaction to Paty’s beheading was to repeat over and over again that “massive, uncontrolled” immigration is at fault for this kind of atrocity.

Considering how fragile the situation in France has become, as well as the anger that has developed between Paris and Arab and Muslim states, there appears to be a high probability of a new wave of radical Islamist terror operations against France and France-related assets. The rage over Macron’s statements, which are being taken as evidence of French Islamophobia, creates a common denominator between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

According to reliable intelligence sources, there are several sleeper cells of Islamic terrorist organizations in France as well as in other countries in Western Europe that can be activated on short notice.

Important French interests in the Arab world might be economically hurt by the explosion of anger, and there may be diplomatic deterioration between Arab states and Paris.

President Macron faces a tough dilemma: stand firm and implement the measures he outlined with respect to radical Islamism in France, or reassess that policy and put his chance of reelection at risk.

 

 

 

JNS

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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’

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The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin

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Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel

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A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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