France’s anti-terror measures put pressure on Muslim communities

Analysts fear French authorities may be laying burden on Muslim communities after having failed to act against terror-support networks.
Friday 23/10/2020
Candles are lit at a makeshift memorial in Nice as people gather to pay homage to Samuel Paty, the French teacher who was beheaded on the streets of the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. REUTERS
Candles are lit at a makeshift memorial in Nice as people gather to pay homage to Samuel Paty, the French teacher who was beheaded on the streets of the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. (REUTERS)

PARIS –France and other European countries have accelerated the pace of the showdown with Islamic extremists as well as the associations and bodies backing them, a situation that increases pressure on the Muslim community, which could be paying the bill for tough anti-terrorist measures.

On Wednesday, the French Cabinet announced the dissolution of the pro-Palestinian “Sheikh Yassin” group, which is accused of being connected to the killing of a history teacher near Paris, last Friday. Dissolving this group could be the first step in a series of measures that France intends to take to dismantle terrorist support networks.

“We announce the dissolution of the Sheikh Yassin group involved in and linked to last Friday’s attack, and for a long time it was a fake façade of what is in fact an anti-republican ideology that spreads hate,” said French government spokesman Gabriel Attal.

Macron had indicated during a cabinet session that “the culprit is known: it is political Islam that systematically supports the dismantling of the republic,” according to Attal.

Attal quoted Macron as saying that the confrontation was going to be “a security, educational and cultural battle that will be long.”

Followers of French affairs believe that Paris needs to adopt a more balanced public discourse in order to gain the trust of the Muslim community and have it on its side, especially since this community is usually the first to bear the consequences of terrorist operations.

Following each incident, Muslims in France become the target of various restrictions and media pressures at a time when Paris is supposed to differentiate between the community and the guilty militants, so as to facilitate isolating the latter from their pockets of support and encourage the integration of French Muslims.

The Sheikh Yassin group (named after the founder of the militant Hamas movement who was killed by the Israeli army in 2004) was founded by Abdul Hakim al-Safrioui, a militant Islamist who has been under investigation since last Friday.

Safrioui posted a video on YouTube a few days ago describing the slain teacher Samuel Paty as an “agitator”.

In addition to the dissolution of the group, the mosque at Pantin, north of Paris, was closed down following the publication of a video on Facebook denouncing the victim of the terrorist attack. The French authorities also pledged to “deport all extremist persons whose residence status has expired.”

Speaking of the “tremendous strengthening” of the government’s actions against extremism based on the directions of the president as spelled out in his speech of October 2, Attal asserted that since February 2018, “356 sites” that formed platforms for the spread of “extremism” have been closed.

These sites ranged between “cafes, associations, mosques and athletic clubs.” Attal said that during the past month alone, “one such site was closed every three days.”

Analysts believe that the French authorities know the networks that attract, shelter and train militants, and these are networks linked to associations that obtain French recognition for their public activities. These analysts say authorities in Paris bear the responsibility for failing to rein in these groups from the start, and that it cannot now place the onus of confronting them on the Muslim community in France.

According to Attal, the government intends to support the educational sector by “strengthening civil and moral education” and stressing the need to place the start of the new school year on November 2 “under the banner of the values ​​of the republic and freedom based on arrangements that will be announced by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer in the coming days.”

Observers do not expect any reversals in the current crisis, especially since France – and Europe in general – is deeply concerned about the expansion of militant groups of all types, their influence, and their targeting of European values.

It is very likely that the authorities in these countries will start enacting measures that may reach the controversial stage of deporting migrants under the shadow of anti-terrorism laws.

European anti-terror laws allow European countries, such as Poland, to immediately expel any foreigner suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.

These laws give the General Security Services increased powers to monitor foreigners, including European Union citizens, once they become suspects.

In Poland, an increasing number of foreigners are subjected to deportation orders for terrorism and espionage, which has raised the concerns of Polish human rights lawyers. “The moment the administrative court issues a deportation order, it will be effective immediately,” said Malgorzata Jazwinska, a lawyer at the Association for Legal Intervention—anon-governmental human rights organization in Warsaw. “This is a dangerous situation, especially in the case of foreigners who claim that after being deported for security reasons, they can be detained, arrested and possibly tortured,” he added.

In many cases, the Internal Security Act puts Muslim immigrants under pressure to report the activities of their peers. If they do not cooperate with the authorities, they could be subject to deportation.