In a panel discussion of MiSK Tweeps held on the sidelines of the Riyadh summit on May 22, Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir addressed the French allegations of Saudi support for Islamic extremism in France, saying: “We have long been accused of supporting and financing extremist mosques and Islamic centers in France. The Saudi response has always been to ask for proof in order to shut those centers down. Nevertheless, we end up in a barren discussion with the French side having no such proof. The problem is that such baseless fallacies and assumptions have become a reality in public opinion.”
He went on to say that a “French parliament report on foreign financing of mosques in France, published in July 2015, proves that the Gulf financing of mosques and Islamic centers makes up only 1 percent and that most of the foreign financing comes from three main countries: Morocco, Algeria, and Turkey as many Muslim minorities in France come from those three countries.”
According to the report, the lion’s share of the financing of French mosques comes from individual donations inside France and not from foreign governments. The report estimates that 300 out of 2,500 imams come from the said above-mentioned three countries, and not from French Islamic centers. The Saudi embassy in France says that the Kingdom financed eight mosques in France at a total cost of €3.7 million, and paid salaries to 14 imams, i.e., it financed eight out of 2,500 mosques and Islamic centers.
Al-Jubeir went on to diagnose the problem of the European Community that embraces hardliners and extremists and allows them to spread extremist ideology under the pretext of freedom of opinion. He says that “in Saudi Arabia, we do not tolerate extremists at all; whoever violates the law is held accountable and isolated or deported if he happens to be a non-Saudi.
We advise Europeans that if extremists or terrorists happen to be (French or German) citizens, charge them and isolate them in order to prevent them from spreading extremist ideology, and if they happen to be non-citizens, deport them.”
It is time for Europe to work on redrafting human rights discourse based on human rights standards and freedom of expressionDr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin
Freedom of speech
Al-Jubair says Europeans do not do that. They say there is freedom of speech, but at the same time, they call them extremists. “Europeans have to choose between freedom of speech or extremism or else stop complaining.”
A report prepared by security experts at Europol said: “The number of victims of extremist attacks across Europe in 2015 rose compared to the previous year. Yet, 2016 seems to have been even bloodier”. Hence, I think the accelerated pace of terrorist attacks in Europe since early 2015 and the increasing number of victims throughout the continent have worn people down. They have had enough of being tolerant with extremists under the guise of freedom of opinion as expressed by UK Prime Minister Theresa May.
On June 6, Theresa May declared that Britain is prepared to reduce human rights in order to facilitate the deportation or restriction of the movement of suspected militants with insufficient evidence to prosecute them. In her election campaign, she said: “If our laws prevent us from (dealing with suspected extremists), we will modify them in order to do that.”
Finally, I think that it is time for Europe to work on redrafting human rights discourse based on human rights standards and freedom of expression, taking into account the problem of extremism in a comprehensive manner. Continuing to allow extremists to have access to channels that have influence on people under the pretext of freedom of speech will only increase terrorism in Europe; it will not reduce it.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin.