Exploring ‘Islamist separatism’ in France: Experts, community leaders speak

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French President Emmanuel Macron announced in February that France would crack down on “Islamist separatism” and end a system in which foreign countries send imams to preach in French mosques.

Al Arabiya’s Rola al-Khatib spoke to experts and community leaders to find out more about the so-called separatists in the country that hosts Europe’s largest Muslim community.

Responses varied between calling the separatists “religious fanatics” and “dangerous threats,” to also calling Macron's announcement as “just a campaign for the president’s reelection."

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Certain communities in eastern France are “pushing in the direction” of applying Islamic law in small to medium-sized cities “where the city council and the mayor are not very powerful,” said criminology and terrorism expert Xavier Raufer.

“In these communities … you have people who are fanatics and want to impose a version of Islam that is close to extremism,” Raufer said.

President Macron had said a part of the crackdown campaign was to ensure “that the laws of the Republic are respected by everyone.”

Law enforcement

Morocco, Algeria and Turkey send 300 imams to France every year, Macron said, adding that the ones arriving in 2020 would be the last. Macron said that France has agreed to stop the system.

Ghaleb Bencheikh, the former president of one of the largest mosques in France, called on French authorities to enforce the French law on communities trying to implement Islamic law “without even understanding it.”

Also read: President Macron promises to reform practice of Islam in France

“There are foreign imams active here in France; half of them are Moroccan, Algerian, and even Egyptian, and the other half are Turkish, despite that Muslims of Turkish origin in France are a minority compared to others,” Bencheikh told Al Arabiya. “This could mean that there is [a political] interference by the Turkish Justice and Development Party.”

"I will not let any country feed separatism", the French president said, but a French Imam told Al Arabiya English that Macron “created the word separatism” to win over the far-right.

“There isn’t a neighborhood that’s isolated from the republic’s laws,” French Imam Abdul Ali Mamoun told al-Khatib. The statement is “completely untrue and baseless,” he added.

However, the Imam talked about neighborhoods isolated because of drug mafias.

“Some of the far-right French people claim that these drug dealers are using the money to practice Islamic control over the neighborhoods, and that is completely false,” he said.

“There’s no correlation between religious extremism and the drug mafias.”

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