France sees threat in Salafism, Muslim fundamentalism

The report described “Salafism and Muslim fundamentalism” as an “internal threat” to France.
Sunday 15/07/2018
French President Emmanuel Macron gives a speech in Paris as part of an international conference discussing cutting funding to terrorist groups, last April. (Reuters)
Stronger focus. French President Emmanuel Macron gives a speech in Paris as part of an international conference discussing cutting funding to terrorist groups, last April. (Reuters)

LONDON - A French senators’ report accused authorities of “culpable inaction” on terrorism and specifically called for a crackdown on Salafism, a hard-line school of Islam.

The report examined the threat of terrorism following the downfall of the Islamic State (ISIS). There have been several terrorist attacks in France in recent years, with questions asked about how the government was dealing with radicalisation and terrorism each time.

The report, compiled by French Senators Francois Grosdidier and Michel Boutant, described “Salafism and Muslim fundamentalism” as an “internal threat” to France and criticised French authorities’ “lack of courage” to address it.

The report was commissioned after a series of suicides among security forces in the autumn of 2017. Some analysts blamed the trend on stress caused by a lack of funding for France’s police forces despite increased pressure, particularly due to terrorism.

“We are on the verge of implosion. The police and the gendarmerie have never been in such a dire state,” warned Grosdidier in an interview with France 24, pointing to a chronic shortage of funding and equipment, as well as understaffing.

“We are running the risk of seeing the security services becoming inoperable. Many of them are at the breaking point,” he added.

The report included more than 50 recommendations, including for French governments to take a long-term approach to counterterrorism and policing.

“In our report, we recommend the drafting of a white paper on homeland security, as is done for the army, that would allow us to rethink and evolve certain approaches to security as well as increase the budget,” he said. The report also said there should be an increase of investment of $2.3 billion-$3.5 billion over five years.

There was a public outcry in France against Salafism after the attacks in Carcassonne and Trebes in March in which five people were killed, including police officer Arnaud Beltrame, who had exchanged himself for a hostage.

“It is not only the terrorist organisations, the armies of [ISIS], the imams of hate and death that we are fighting against,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at Beltrame’s funeral.

“What we are fighting against is also this underground Islamism, which indoctrinates on our soil and corrupts daily. … [This is an] insidious enemy that requires every citizen to be vigilant and civic-minded.”

However, Macron has faced criticism for a perceived lack of action to address radical Islamic views, including Salafism. While he has talked tough about cracking down on Salafism, critics say the rhetoric has not developed into action despite popular support for the idea.

An Odoxa poll published after the Carcassonne and Trebes attacks indicated that 87% of respondents said they wanted people suspected of religious radicalisation to be forcibly detained and 88% favoured banning Salafist Islam completely. An Elabe survey said 80% of those asked backed the expulsion of foreign nationals with radical beliefs and more than 50% said Macron was not doing enough to counter terrorism.

Macron has said that he intended to “reorganise” Islam in France, redrawing the relationship between France’s Muslim community and the secular French state. While successive French governments have sought to promote a liberal “Islam of France,” Macron’s attempts have included a de-radicalisation programme, tighter regulation of Islamic private schools and the expulsion of preachers suspected of promoting hate speech.

The government announced 32 new measures, including beefing up counterterrorism powers and the creation of bodies to track radicalised inmates and identify extremists at risk of turning to violence. “The threat has evolved. We need to adapt ourselves,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.

In a policy address to the French parliament, Macron promised stronger focus on the reorganisation of France’s relationship with Islam. “Starting in the autumn, we will clarify this situation by giving Islam a framework and rules guaranteeing that it will be practised everywhere in accordance with the laws of the republic,” he said.