Investigative reporter looks into Qatar's 'corrupting influence' in France, Europe
PARIS - Jacques-Marie Bourget is an internationally renowned French writer and investigative journalist. A war correspondent and Middle East expert, Bourget made his career in France Inter radio channel, Le Canard Enchainé satirical newspaper and the weeklies L'Express and Paris Match. He was awarded the “Scoop” prize in 1986 for reporting on the Green Peace affair and he revealed the assassination of British publisher Robert Maxwell disguised as suicide.
While reporting from Ramallah in the West Bank, Bourget was seriously wounded by an Israeli soldier on October 21, 2000.
A daring and discreet journalist, he was awarded by former French President Jacques Chirac the French Medaille de Chevalier de l’Ordre national de la Legion d’Honneur.
In 2012, he published “Sabra & Chatila, au cœur du massacre,” with photographs by Marc Simon. His latest publication was “Le vilain petit Qatar, cet ami qui nous veut du mal” ("Nasty Little Qatar, a Friend that Does Not Want Us Good") published in 2013 by Editions Fayard.
The Arab Weekly spoke with Bourget in Paris.
The Arab Weekly (TAW): What led you to devote a book to Qatar?
Jacques-Marie Bourget (JMB): "There was such a media craze for Qatar, especially in the French mainstream media, where Qatar was too often presented as the model of “modern” Islam, a friend of science, of the arts, culture and tolerance, such that this micro-state had to be investigated.
“I started my investigation a little naively, without prejudice, but I ended up very quickly finding the happy truth: Everything that was said and written about Qatar was false and funded by the emirate.
“Here we can think of the Potemkin villages, named after this Russian minister, in 1787, who ordered the construction of cardboard facades in the villages visited by Empress Catherine II."
TAW: You were the first investigative journalist to take an interest in Qatar and to denounce its “public tender acquisition of Islam in France.” With the rise of communitarianism in France and the false debate on the so-called Islamic scarf widely favoured by both circles close to the nebula of the Muslim Brotherhood and by the Islamophobic and racist extreme right, how do you explain the blind-eye policy of French governments towards Qatar for at least two decades?
JMB: "The question of the rise of Islamic communitarianism is, for me, extremely painful. Having been brought up in the pain of the Catholic religion according to the most inane principles, I have developed a total distaste for all religions.
"That being said, one must be stupid to wish for a sort of world secularisation that would be magical. Having travelled and lived a lot in Arab countries, I know that Islam can be like the daily bread there and, historically, it was the vehicle of science and knowledge; need we mention the role of the Andalusian masters?
"Problems develop when religion becomes political. If you haven’t done so, go on the internet and watch a speech given by (Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser in which he talks about a Muslim Brotherhood leader who had asked him to impose wearing the veil on all Egyptian females. Nasser answered him: ‘You’re not even able to impose it on your own daughter and you want me to impose on all of our sisters!’ That's the problem. Pray all you want but leave power alone.
"In France, I’m very uncomfortable because to criticise the ‘veil’ and the aggressive behaviour of political Islamists, places you in the same camp as racists and extreme right-wing activists. So, we, humanists and democrats and friends of the Muslim world end up being caught between a rock and a hard place, while we know from experience, from investigating and from living in Muslim countries that this political Islam did not come out of thin air.
In France, it is sponsored, encouraged and organised by states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In a poor and uprooted community, the ‘zakat’ or charity from Doha is welcomed as aid and espousing Wahhabism becomes an identity and a source of support. It's a trap.
“We have all lived in Muslim countries where women walked the streets freely and without a veil, this outer sign of religious constraint. ‘Progressive’ French people have trouble imagining that the veil is the flag of political Islam and that it is an import product."
TAW: Since the 1995 coup, this geopolitically insignificant small gas and oil-rich state has become, at least in the media and ideologically, a political actor wanting to play in the big leagues and influence the course of history in the Muslim world. Is this megalomania or is Qatar serving a bigger project that goes beyond it?
JMB: "Qatar is big only because it is small. Let us remember this Russian UN diplomat who, outraged by the arrogance of the representative of Doha, told him: ‘The tip of my pencil is enough to hide your country on the map. Just press one button and, hop, no more Qatar.’
“Since Qatar, a state that certainly has debts but swimming in gold nevertheless, lacks territorial space, a kind of colonial ideology and desire for conquest were born, a lust for the empire of the dollar. We’ve seen this happen in the past with the power of the Republic of Venice. It’s quite comparable.
"But money hardly circulates without Qatari Wahhabism, which is a kind of global passport, a kind of Green Card granted to the follower.
“Five or six years ago, Qatar tried to create, in France, a kind of equivalent to CRIF (the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France) and this tactic was, in fact, a way to take hold of Islam in France. To use a comparison that is not right, the emir and (Yusuf al-)Qaradawi then would become great caliphs.”
TAW: Qatar, along with Turkey, both sponsors of the Muslim Brotherhood, played a decisive role (financially and through terrorist and jihadist networks) in the outbreak of the inaptly named “Arab spring.” For whose benefit in your view?
JMB: "Qatar, with (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy as an ally and accomplice, played a considerable and detestable role in destroying Libya. The jihadist flags of Benghazi were sewn in Qatar long before the beginning of the offensive against (Libyan leader Muammar) Qaddafi, whose oil and billions were to be looted. Where are today the $170 billion that the Libyan leader stashed in different banks worldwide, including $50 billion in Doha?
"Who has helped and financed the Mujao (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) in Africa, especially in Mali? Who had convinced France, without difficulty it must be noted, to accept Qatar as a member of the francophone countries while we know the emirate was not eligible? This label of ‘francophone’ allows Qatar to transform many schools in West Africa into madrassas. Who, if not Qatar, in southern Niger was in contact with Boko Haram?
“France and the West are being suicidal by encouraging this country in exchange for mercantile and suspiciously corrupt profits. Let's never forget that in Doha, the capital of a mini-monarchy but also a total dictatorship, a poet was sentenced to death (then pardoned under pressure) for having wished that the ‘spring’ season may come to Qatar one day.
"With Turkey, Qatar is the biggest proselytising country in France. Let's not forget that Tariq Ramadan is a creature from Qatar and that he has woven his web so well, helped by men like Edwy Plenel who wanted to build a ‘common home’ with him and with this type of propaganda we are close to disaster. The same Plenel received a prize from an organisation of the Turkish Muslim Brothers...
"Doha's aid to the 'Arab spring' and then to jihadist organisations like al-Nusra is documented. Many Tunisian, Syrian, Egyptian and Libyan ‘rebel’ youths were trained and funded by US-Qatari structures and Al Jazeera TV has always been there for the propagation of lies and the power of provocations.
“When the various ‘springs’ have settled, the Wahabbites continued their conquest otherwise, by arming the ‘Syrian rebels,’ especially from the weapons stockpiles of Tripoli."
TAW: How do you explain the complacency of some of France's ruling elites towards this emirate at all levels: arms purchases (especially acquiring Rafale warplanes), financial investments, media, sports?
JMB: "French 'elites' are corruptible and Qatar’s money has no smell. It is actually exotic, oriental, as Edward Said would say; baksheesh is quite welcomed, as a cultural gesture.
“Thus, we have seen a string of French intellectuals, such as Plantu or Jean Daniel, rushing to the Qatari Embassy in Paris to receive the 10,000 euros of the Paris Doha Prize.
“Qatar can finance seminars, trips, foundations, 'research' institutes, Islamic scholars, et cetera. In France, Qatar, for its modernity and positive action for a peaceful Islam preached by Al Jazeera, was exempted from the tax on real estate gains."
TAW: Does Qatar's policy towards Europe consist solely in using its financial assets to win the favours of politicians while playing the game of the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist groups whose values and actions threaten European societies? Does not this remind you of the famous quote attributed to Lenin: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”?
JMB: "Vis-a-vis Europe, Qatar’s game became so obvious in France that this absolute monarchy was forced to more discretion. The ‘elites’ are trying to be discrete when attending a party organised by Qatar. The new game is now in the Balkans where, in all tranquillity, Wahhabism intends to establish its new European base.
“The European Parliament members are busy voting a scandalous text that puts on the same footing the heroes of Stalingrad and Auschwitz guards, while they see no malice in the rise of this political Islam perceived as a 'regulator'."
TAW: How do you explain the complacency of the French authorities, especially the Higher Audiovisual Council (CSA), towards the Qatari channel Al Jazeera, broadcast by all the cable operators, and which propagates in the suburbs fundamentalist ideology, hatred and even calls for murder, while other foreign channels are strictly monitored and even harassed as in the case of RT France?
JMB: "Qatar’s strength, in terms of propaganda, is that it relies largely on a community that speaks Arabic, a language little practised by the so odiously called 'native' French. This lack of filter allows Doha to propagate any fake news in total freedom, plus sermons by radical preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, which incite violence. The CSA does not control any of this and, if there is a hitch, the political authorities will intervene to bury any sanctions but that wasn’t the case with Al-Manar channel, which was banned at the request of Israel.
“In the case of RT France, the target is (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, who right now happens to be the leader designated as 'very bad,' so punishable."
TAW: Qatar is currently asking the European Union to ensure that Qatari passport holders are exempted from Schengen Area visas. Will this not allow free access to Europe to Qatar’s proteges acting under the false cover of philanthropic activities, which could open a whole new Pandora’s box?
JMB: "That Qatar is asking Europe for free access to Schengen for the emirate's passport holders does not surprise me. Doha has understood that, with the existing division among European countries, corruption and the weight of lobbies, there is a real ground to be conquered in Europe.”
TAW: Has Qatar bought the football World Cup? Is there still a risk, given repeated revelations on this subject, to see FIFA reverse its decision to have the 2022 World Cup competition in Qatar?
JMB: "The limit of the Qatari system was reached at the World Athletics Championships. In my book 'Le Vilain Petit Qatar,' I had described the empty football stadiums of Qatar during the football championship, with men going there just to watch films on their tablets.
“During the athletics championships, the stadium was too big for the meagre public and it was necessary to stretch tarpaulins over parts of it to shrink it. This attribution of a global competition to Qatar is just the latest episode in the globalised corruption of the power of dishonest leaders who do not think about the sport but about their bank accounts in Singapore.
“The World Cup in 2022 will confirm this hell whose most serious aspect is the death of 2,000 workers during the construction of the towers and stadiums of Doha, a scandal well-known to and experienced by the very humanistic French promoters and architects in Paris.”