Les Islamistes: Quelles Menaces?
with Chems-Eddine Hafiz & Jean-François Colosimo
(Moderator: General Dominique Trinquand)
The Islamists represent a threat to French society, but first of all to the Islam of France. Organising the Islam of France, in particular by structuring the training of imams and proposing a society open to all religions, should make it possible to lead the fight for an open society, a model of emancipation between religion and politics.
The Internal Threat: Imams at the Heart of the Matter
Due to the acts of terror, which have been committed recently in France, it can be said that the Islamists have penetrated not only the French national territory but also the Muslim religious field. It is therefore important for the French, whatever their belief, to be able to define and distinguish Islam and Islamism. Islam should be considered as a monotheistic religion with a practice and a way of believing; Islamism is an ideology.
While Islam and its practice fit very well into the laws of the republic and French society, Islamism seeks to implement a social project contrary to the republican ideals characterising France. This separatism, as President Emmanuel Macron described during the Mureaux speech, is the engine of an internal threat. At the centre of this debate, whose major stake remains first and foremost the prevention of radicalisation emerges the need to put forward the imam. Today in France, imams are left to fend for themselves and call on 300 “detached imams” (coming from countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Turkey) who are expected to leave the territory at the start of 2024. Imams however have an important role in society, they allow both the explanation of ritual practices to Muslims and reconcile the vision that non-Muslims have of this religion, which has mostly become known due to extremist activities since September 11th, 2001. In addition to the loss of 300 imams, the few vocations generated by this profession (a problem shared by all monotheistic religions today), leads to the potential arrival of independent imams paid by groups whose motivations will not necessarily be known.
In order to solve this problem, it is possible to look at the example of some countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. These countries have indeed given a status to the imam, in order to handle the arrival of the Islamists. Offering a status to the imams would make it possible to overcome the difficulties linked to the training of a sufficient number of imams to supply the 2,500 French mosques.
This status should allow the training of imams in an academic environment reflecting the values of French society, which will permit future imams to discover new horizons so as not to remain solely within the framework of Muslim theology.
All this will ensure that the imam has the necessary tools to preach, to gather a part of a vulnerable youth and to participate in the life of French society in its entirety.
In addition to the role of the imam, an important element in the fight against Islamism in France is the establishment of the charter of principles for the Islam of France, which has still not been signed by all of the federations of the French Council of the Muslim Faith. This charter would clarify the rights and duties of Muslim citizens, who are French citizens and who must therefore respect the laws and principles of the Republic. It would also make it possible to tackle new subjects around the major theological principles in the Muslim faith. They could be treated through a republican reading grid, calling into question certain notions such as that of excommunication perceived as having no place in the Islam of France.
The External Threat: Understanding the Islamist Threat
In order to better understand the external threat facing France, we must first review the vision that we have of religion. A mistake of modern societies is their very conception of what religion is today: an entity that evolves only in the private sphere. From an etymological point of view, “religion” comes from the Latin word “religare” meaning “to connect”, that is to say to create links. More specifically to create a political society that relates to transcendent but invisible representations that can be deities, the abstract principles of different political regimes or of a homeland. Thus, it is an anthropological fact; there is no humanity without religion. As proof, we have as an example the Enlightenment, which brought with it the association of religion with obscurantism. This association led to the decision to expel it from society. Yet religion has never been erased. All attempts, such as that of Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety or that of the Soviet regime, have only succeeded in replacing religion with similar elements (the cult of the supreme being and the cult of the personality respectively). Consequently, this does not allow us to speak of a resurgence of religion in the world today. Despite everything, the religious individual lived these attempts, which began as early as the 18thcentury as attacks, whether it be by categorising faith as irrational or as demanding it to exist only in the private sphere.
Believers are therefore divided according to two tendencies. These two movements appear in all monotheistic religions, most notably movements such as Evangelism and Pentecostalism for Christians, Wahhabism and Sufism for Muslims, the Judaic thought of Vilnius and Hasidism for Jews. Fundamentalist thinking emerged in two stages: after the end of the First World War with the collapse of the great European powers. In the case of the Muslim religion, it is through the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt by Hassan el-Banna. The second stage occurred in 1979, year which saw a concentration of events concerning the religious field with, most notably, the seizure of power by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and the siege of Mecca confronting Shiites and Sunnis. The importance of the Soviet Union and of communist thought were far too late to have a significant impact on these events. The Cold War period did not demonstrate an ideological relationship between East and West, but rather a symbolic north-south relationship.
The politicisation of the Muslim faith represents an external threat for Western countries such as France because it stems, in an overall manner, from the difficult decolonisation of the Muslim countries. This difficulty often reappears in Muslim religious discourse, in the measure that it is no longer just a political issue but also a symbolic and by extension a religious issue. It was through this willingness to compete with the West that Islam sought to rationalise its religion, which was previously done by Western countries during the Enlightenment. This leads to an Islamisation with the application of Sharia law and the mobilisation of the masses through jihad. In addition, this religion due to its universalist, proselytising nature and its heritage party rooted in the Arab world (which has certain historical differences to settle with Europe), is undergoing recuperation by Islamic states such as Turkey. This recovery makes it possible to instrumentalise religion in order to lead the struggle inside and outside of borders. According to Daesh theorists, continental Europe is the soft underbelly of the West, due to its large Muslim population (most notably 7-8 million individuals of Turkish ethnicity). The Islamists would seek to set up a strategy of tension leading to governments to put in place repressive policies aimed at these populations, pushing them to detach themselves from legality in order to join the camp of insurgencies.
France, with its secularism is a chance for the formation of an Islam of France, which will always remain a privileged target of jihadist Islamists. Islamism fears the existence of a European, French and flourishing Islam, which would be a model of emancipation between the religious and the political in regard to the Muslim world. We must also understand that through its secularisation, France remains powerless against these fundamentalist Islamists but must all the same seek to explain why this secularism is a way forward.