Meet the imams, drug dealers in a French town accused of ‘Islamist separatism’

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Muslims in one of the French towns accused of “Islamist separatism” have rejected the accusation and told Al Arabiya’s investigative journalist Rola al-Khatib that their community was being confused with local drug dealers who want autonomy from state police.

In Argenteuil, Al Arabiya met with Muslims leaving the mosque after prayers and interviewed the imam of one of the two mosques in the town to ask about separatism and get a glimpse inside the French Muslim community there.

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“People who are saying this are not familiar with the area [Argenteuil],” said the imam. “Before building this mosque, this area was kind of dangerous because of thieves, assaults, and drugs, but the mosque has put many young people on the right path again.”

Macron accuses towns of ‘Islamist separatism’

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.

The imam of Mosquée d’Argenteuil is one of the mandated imams who were brought to France by a cooperation program between France and Algeria to lead prayers in French Mosques. Asked about the decision to end the foreign imams system, he said that he believes the French authorities “want to qualify French imams who speak the French language and have good knowledge of the French culture.”

President Macron had said a part of the crackdown campaign was to ensure “that the laws of the Republic are respected by everyone,” but the Muslims Al Arabiya met during the Argenteuil visit showed no signs of disrespecting the law.

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

“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.”

A talk with a drug dealer

Drug dealers have been accused of using their illicit funds to impose Islamic control on the area.

Al Arabiya’s al-Khatib met with one drug dealer, who said he is a Muslim and wanted people to “understand why we do what we do” but asked to remain anonymous.

The 30-year-old told Al Arabiya that he has been dealing drugs since he was 16 because he did not have money and came from a poor big family in which the breadwinner could barely provide necessities.

“I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but we live in a harsh world that doesn’t have mercy,” he said. “This is our reality.”

Asked about people who have left France to fight in Iraq and Syria, he said he does not understand their decision and that he does not consider it the right path.

Al-Khatib asked the drug dealer what he made of the accusation that dealers are distorting the image of Islam, scaring people, and financing terrorism and extremists.

“My work does not scare the residents. They come to us for solutions to their problems,” he said, adding that whether they scare the police is unimportant. “After all they do to us, it’s not important if we scare the police.”

Sitting for the interview on a staircase, the drug dealer said that there is no official funding channel from the drug dealers to the town’s mosques, but added that he individually donates money to the mosque.

Also read:

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

President Macron promises to reform practice of Islam in France