The French journal Mediapart published on the 28th of October three articles on the state of affairs of the French Muslim community. One of them – “The struggle against separatism: a one year witch-hunt” – requires our attention. It covers the stretch of government-ordered dissolutions which commenced in October 2020, and explains its origins and consequences. 

In their words, “The confusion is ontological. It reflects the use of a term – ‘separatism’ – which the government has been careful not to define, but which is used in turn to disqualify human rights radical Islamists, jihadists, traditionalists, conservatives or traditionalists, conservatives or more or less practising Muslims who are more or less practising Muslims and who are suspected of having some anti-government tendencies.”

It correctly highlights how the entire Muslim civil society is targeted by the State as a result of this linguistic diversion – “separatism” only stands for Islâm since, according to the State, orthodox Islamic behaviours lead to “separatism” –  and highlights some gross violations of civil rights that French Muslims – including their children –  are facing as a result of the “anti-separatism” policy of the government :

As a result, an entire civil society is paying the price for this offensive, which is almost exclusively directed against it. And which seems to be unfolding with ever greater indifference on the part of the rest of the country.

(…)

Children [are] arrested in the early hours of the morning on suspicion of terrorism and held in police custody for several hours (sometimes handcuffed) before being returned to their parents without legal proceedings

(…)

“Imams were also woken up at dawn for administrative searches which again did not lead to any investigation.”

Moreover the Mediapart investigation unveils the creation of a new administrative office which will intensify the implementation of this Anti-Muslim policy :

Gérald Darmanin’s departments are indeed working to set up a new entity: the “BI2A”.

(…) presented by Place Beauvau (i.e. the Ministry of the Interior) as a mega “administrative prosecutor’s office”.

(…)

Its mission? To produce and organise in a proactive manner the “closing and dissolution measures of places of worship and associations”, but also “individual measures of administrative control and surveillance, asset freezes and exit bans”. In short, everything is to be controlled from above and the powers of the Ministry of the Interior are to be further increased

Mediapart’s work and research is to be applauded at a time where almost no space is left for denouncing the oppression French Muslims are subjected to. 

The missed details of the ‘anti separatism’ drive 

Mediapart’s contribution, while strong, missed some important points which prove the reality of a State-led Islamophobic persecution.

Firstly, the article suggests that the “anti-separatism” campaign of the government started in October 2020 right after the now infamous Macron speech. Indeed, in his address Macron identified for the first time “Islamist separatism” as the enemy to tackle, and hence formalised the expression. However the guidelines he announced were a mere continuation of an existing public policy – the Systematic Obstruction policy –  which started in total secrecy back in February 2018 at his request.

Secondly, the article accuses Darmanin of “making up” the data of the policy by fallaciously presenting health and safety controls as operations linked to the “anti-separatism” policy: the manoeuvre consists in passing off controls linked to health and safety issues as operations linked to the fight against radical Islam.

This however is an intrinsic feature of this policy. In order to harass and persecute the entire Muslim Civil society, the government does not exclusively rely on anti-terror legislation. It uses the entire set of powers at its disposal to find justifications to close down any mosque, school, organisation or business run by a Muslim. 

This strategy echoes the Al-Capone policy used by the US government against organised crime: using any piece of legislation to produce pressure and disruption. It also aligns with the turn, under current British Home Secretary Priti Patel, towards the increased use of civil sanction powers to target organisations labelled as “extremist” – which has thus far attracted little attention. Its functioning was described by the former Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner in a November 2019 address to the prefects (officials representing the State in every department and tasked with the implementation of this strategy)  as such:

As soon as there are doubts about a place or an association, I ask you not to hesitate to carry out inspections and controls. And if breaches are established, I ask you to order administrative closures without hesitation.

“This may involve the control of regulations concerning establishments open to the public or hygiene, the control of regulations concerning sports activities, the control of regulations concerning the reception of minors or the fight against fraud. All options are open to you and I am counting on you to carry out these operations.”  (emphasis added)

Castaner coined this strategy as “Systematic Obstruction” on the 12th of February 2020 during a parliamentary hearing. The word “obstruction” can also be found in the public circular issued by the Prime Minister in June 2021, which describes the “executive pillar” of the anti separatism strategy based upon a politics of “obstruction”.

CAGE has been monitoring the situation for months and has published a series of articles and infographics exposing the Islamophobic ‘Systematic Obstruction’ policy. 

CAGE will launch a report detailing the current state of affairs of the French Muslim community. It will describe in more detail the reality and the mechanics of an Islamophobic persecution in the making.

 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia/Jebulon 

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)