Skip to comments.France targets radical Muslim clerics
Posted on 05/03/2004 4:22:29 PM PDT by MegaSilver
They have lived mostly unnoticed in France for years, some raising large families. Now, they are being tracked, investigated and expelled.
Muslim prayer leaders, or imams, preaching a radical brand of Islam are seen as a new public danger. But critics contend the aggressive French policy could do more harm than good.
At least five imams have been expelled, arrested or threatened with expulsion, and there is little doubt that others will find themselves on a flight out of France - or named in a police blotter.
Other European countries have taken only limited action against radical imams.
Authorities in Spain, looking to curb Islamic extremism blamed for the deadly March 11 train attacks, are considering a crackdown with a law to monitor imams.
But none of France's neighbors has set out a policy like Paris of actively going after imams whose discourse veers into a defense of violence or espouses values counter to democracy or human rights.
Radical imams "are a natural bridge toward violence, that is, toward terrorism," said Stephane Berthomet, a former anti-terrorism investigator with the Interior Ministry. They also are a "social danger," he said, because "they reject the French system."
On Saturday, police detained an imam who the Interior Ministry said was the leader of an extremist movement that advocates violence and terrorism.
Midhat Guler, 45, a Turkish imam at a Paris mosque, immediately applied for political asylum but the demand was rejected Monday night. A judge ordered him placed under house arrest until a ruling is made on his expulsion appeal.
Guler, who has lived in France for 28 years and has five children, was director of the mosque since 1984, his son, Abdurrahman Guler, told French television.
Two imams were expelled last month, including Abdelkader Bouziane, an Algerian imam who was quoted by local media as saying that he favors wife-beating and stoning of women. The Interior Ministry said he also advocated violence in his sermons.
A court quickly ruled against the expulsion and said that Bouziane - who has 16 children from two wives - could return to France.
The succession of expulsions has drawn concern from some Muslims.
Lhaj Thami Breze, president of the powerful Union of Islamic Organizations of France, considered close to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, says the expulsions are an excessive reaction and the fanfare that accompanies them is unwise.
"This feeds the fear in the Muslim community that it, once again, is being singled out," Breze said in a telephone interview. "It gives the impression that France is persecuting Muslims."
Breze said the French Council for the Muslim Faith, created last year to serve as a link between Muslims and the government, should be allowed to mediate in such cases. Offenders should go before a court rather than be expelled, he said.
His organization, the UOIF, plans a May 31 meeting of imams of the Paris region on the contents of sermons.
Concern over radical imams is less apparent among France's neighbors, except for Spain. Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said in a newspaper interview that he is considering legislation to monitor imams.
"We are talking about a phenomenon that can create a breeding ground for terrorism that kills people," Alonso told El Pais.
Elsewhere, Italy ordered an imam from Senegal deported in November, deeming him a "danger to state security" after he warned that Italian soldiers as U.S. allies in Iraq and Afghanistan risked attack _ days before 19 Italians in Iraq were killed.
Radical sermons are openly delivered in Britain. However, a Jamaican-born convert to Islam was sentenced to nine years in prison in March 2003 for urging followers to kill Hindus, Jews and Americans.
In Germany, authorities are aware of mosques where radical sermons are delivered, but avoid a crackdown so as not to infringe on religious freedoms.
The rector of the Paris Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, known for his moderate stance, approved of the detention of the Turkish imam.
"We have to work hand in hand ... so that the function of the imam, the status of the imam in France, is void of any suspicion," Boubakeur said Monday.
It is the status of the imam that is the crux of the problem.
With its estimated 5 million Muslims - the largest Muslim population in Western Europe - France wants an "Islam of France" to emerge that reflects French values.
Far from that, the majority of imams in France, estimated at 1,500, come from abroad and less than half speak French.
About 30 mosques in France are controlled by the hard-line Salafist movement that preaches a strict interpretation of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, according to the newspaper Le Monde, quoting intelligence sources.
The isolation of Muslim youths in working class suburbs, France's version of ghettos, has made them particularly vulnerable to teachings of radical imams, said Berthomet, the former anti-terrorism officer.
"These radicals penetrate some suburbs more easily than social workers or police," he said.
Wow...just what the world needs. A bunch of smelly, back-stabbing surrender monkeys!
They are certainly more duplicitous than us.
Unfortunately, this may be what it takes to deal with these people.
They had Napoleon. And that guy who wrote their national anthem...
And it looks like they found a porcupine to play with.
One can only wish American politicians would speak with such clarity.
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