France still wrestling with how to overcome ‘insidious enemy’ that is radical Islamism
French president Emmanuel Macron has denounced "underground Islamism" as a new row has again flared in France over how to counter the influence of radical Salafist interpretations of Islam. Some have called for an outright ban.
Published: 28 March 2018 14:53 CEST
Radical Islamists are arrested by police in southern France in 2012. Photo: AFP
While a majority of Salafists disdain violence as they adher to the fundamentalist traditions of “pious ancestors”, some of its followers embrace using force to promote their beliefs.
“It is not only the terrorist organizations, the armies of Daesh, the imams of hate and death that we are fighting against,” said French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday.
“What we are fighting against is also this underground Islamism … which indoctrinates on our soil and corrupts daily,” he said, denouncing this “insidious enemy that requires every citizen to be vigilant and civic-minded.”
Former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls also addressed the issue in a radio interview Tuesday.
“It's not about forbidding a religion or even an idea, but I'm saying very clearly that we must forbid the spread of Salafism, because it's the enemy.”
“Of course not all Salafists are terrorists, but all the terrorists are Salafists,” he said.
Many of the jihadist attackers who have struck France since the January 2015 massacre at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris were later found to have frequented Salafist circles.
Legal experts almost unanimously dismiss the idea of a ban, saying any effort to outlaw a religious movement would run counter to freedom of belief and never hold up in court.
Other critics say such moves would only drive extremist preachings underground, making it harder for authorities to monitor young people at risk of falling under the Salafists' sway.
But outrage over the killing of Arnaud Beltrame, the French officer whose throat was slit by Lakdim after taking the place of a hostage, and three other people could put new pressure on President Emmanuel Macron to take more aggressive measures.
Some lawmakers have also renewed calls for “preventive detention” of the most radicalised Islamists already on watchlists, after it emerged Tuesday that Lakdim had been on the lists and was summoned for an interview with the authorities days before his attacks in southern France.
“Our country must launch an extensive campaign to eradicate Salafism,” the rightwing Figaro daily wrote in a front-page editorial Tuesday.
“With all due respect for the apostles of 'living in harmony', this virus is incompatible with our freedom to live, move and think.”
Macron, who pledged in January a “restructuring of Islam in France”, had already signalled his determination to clamp down on Salafist mosques and imams.
Confronted in 2016 by a Montpellier resident who said “a Salafist is a citizen like any other”, he replied: “There are associations which do not respect the laws of the republic in the name of their religion, these I want to dismantle.”
Yet France has already passed several laws since 2012 aimed at curtailing extremism, most recently last year's tough anti-terror laws which enshrined many measures of the state of emergency imposed after the November 2015 attacks in Paris which killed 130 people.
The government estimates there are about 2,500 mosques and prayer halls in France, about 120 of which are considered to be preaching radical Salafism.
Authorities have shut down some of them, most recently in December in Marseille, where the Algerian imam El Hadi Doudi was accused of distributing texts liable to incite hatred.
Police said several people who attended his As-Sounna mosque had claimed allegiance to Al-Qaeda or had fought in Iraq and Syria, and this month officials confirmed that Doudi would be deported.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Monday reiterated her calls to block foreign financing of mosques — a reference to the funds provided by Saudi Arabia for Salafist mosques around the world.
But Prime Minister Edouard Philippe appeared to pour cold water on the idea of outlawing Salafism outright, though he admitted “a real question about the combat of civilisations” was posing a threat to French values.
“We cannot prohibit an idea,” Philippe told parliament on Tuesday.
“We can punish the behaviour it provokes, if it disrupts the public order, the country's laws or the minimum standards of social life,” Philippe said, garnering widespread applause from lawmakers.”
Surgeon fined for trying to sell Paris terror attack victim’s x-ray
A Paris court on Wednesday convicted a surgeon for trying to sell an X-Ray image of a wounded arm of a woman who survived the 2015 terror attacks in the French capital.
Published: 30 November 2022 14:18 CET
Found guilty of violating medical secrecy, renowned orthopaedic surgeon Emmanuel Masmejean must pay the victim €5,000 or face two months in jail, judges ordered.
Masmejean, who works at the Georges-Pompidou hospital in western Paris, posted the image of a young woman’s forearm penetrated by a Kalashnikov bullet on marketplace Opensea in late 2021.
The site allows its roughly 20 million users to trade non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – certificates of ownership of an artwork that are stored on a “blockchain” similar to the technology used to secure cryptocurrencies.
In the file’s description, the surgeon wrote that the young woman he had operated on had “lost her boyfriend in the attack” on the Bataclan concert hall, the focus of the November 2015 gun and bomb assault in which jihadists killed 130 people.
The X-Ray image never sold for the asking price of $2,776, and was removed from Opensea after being revealed by investigative website Mediapart in January.
Masmejean claimed at a September court hearing that he had been carrying out an “experiment” by putting a “striking and historic medical image” online – while acknowledging that it had been “idiocy, a mistake, a blunder”.
The court did not find him guilty of two further charges of abuse of personal data and illegally revealing harmful personal information.
Nor was he barred from practicing as prosecutors had urged, with the lead judge saying it would be “disproportionate and inappropriate” to inflict such a “social death” on the doctor.
The victim’s lawyer Elodie Abraham complained of a “politically correct” judgement.
“It doesn’t bother anyone that there’s been such a flagrant breach of medical secrecy. It’s not a good message for doctors,” Abraham said.
Neither Masmejean, who has been suspended from his hospital job, nor the victim were present for Wednesday’s ruling.
The surgeon may yet face professional consequences after appearing before the French medical association in September, his lawyer Ivan Terel said.
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