By Arab News
By Faisal J. Abbas*
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday unveiled a set of laws to fight what he described as the threat from radical Islamists and other extremists. The centrist president said he wanted to put the French republican values on the frontline in the battle against the divisions in society. Macron reiterated that he wanted Islam in France to be a positive part of society. “I’m not saying we need to create a French style of Islam, but that there can be a solid partnership with the French state,” he said. “The best way we can do that is by freeing it from foreign influence.”
The French president’s overhaul comes close on the heels of the bloody knife attack outside the former offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The attack has been described by French officials as a case of Islamist terrorism.
France has traditionally been a beacon for reformers. However, it is currently at a cultural and societal crossroads. Those who have been following French domestic politics will understand this at once. President Macron’s proposed neo-liberal “reform” of France’s retirement system which was established at the end of the Second World War and the yellow vest protests that only the corona pandemic managed to disperse are obvious examples. However, the traditional French values of liberty, equality, and fraternity must remain unchanged.
It is sad to see that among those who top the list of what needs to be reformed are Muslims — such as the ones who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Of course, it is important to stress that not all Muslims are terrorists, but sadly many terrorists in the past few years have been Muslim — or have claimed to be.
This is not to say there are no glowing examples of French Muslims doing amazing things. There are many — doctors, politicians and football players, such as Zinedine Zidane, Hatem Ben Arfa, N’Golo Kante, Karim Mostafa Benzema, Wissam Ben Yedder and Houssem Aouar — who are perfectly integrated into French society. Another example is that of the singer Mennel Ibtissem, whom Arab News En Français interviewed recently. Despite the success she has enjoyed on shows such as “The Voice,” she was subjected to the worst kind of cyberbullying, simply because she is Muslim and later because she removed her turban. There is, of course, the danger that these cyberattacks might become actual physical ones.
Of course, many will take my words with a pinch of salt, saying that they come from the editor in chief of a Saudi Arabian newspaper based in Riyadh. Many will point a finger at the Kingdom, saying that it has often been the source of extremism. Of course, at the same time — for racist or other political agendas — they will unfairly refuse to accept the reforms made in the country by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is on the record as saying, “We want to take the Kingdom back to moderate Islam.”
Others will repeat religious extremist conspiracy theories suggesting that Saudi Arabia, along with other moderate Arab states, secretly support those who propagate Islamophobia to win publicity points.
However, one only has to compare words to actions to realize that religious reform in the Kingdom is real, brave and is for the benefit of the whole world.
Sheikh Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, a former Saudi minister of justice who now heads the highly influential Muslim World League (MWL), told me in a 2018 interview with this newspaper: “I think no Muslim can call a Muslim woman an infidel or question her values because she has never worn a hijab. The Muslim woman, if she does not wear hijab … is not an infidel and does not depart from Islam.”
In Belgium in 2017, he said Muslims should respect the laws, culture and customs of the non-Muslim countries in which they live, even if they felt that to do so violated their faith. If they (Muslims) were unable to legally persuade the local authorities to respect their wishes, they should either obey local laws or leave, Al-Issa advised.
We, at Arab News, have also played our part and we acknowledged that in the beginning was the word. As such, we realized the influence of radical clerics’ words on the hearts and minds of followers of different religions worldwide. With this realization in mind, in 2019, we at Arab News launched a series called “Preachers of Hate” — a series that names and shames radical preachers, from all religions and nationalities, and we started with our own in Saudi Arabia.
To support President Macron’s drive, we are pleased to translate this series into French and launch it today. It will include profiles of all the extremist preachers that we exposed in the past, along with some additional French ones.
We at this newspaper will do our part, but the French authorities must do theirs as well. “I believe that the most important thing is to control those who convey hate speech from inside or outside the country — separatists, racists, anti-Semites. Such speech is contrary to the values of the French Republic,” French Sen. Nathalie Goulet told Arab News last July. She was commenting on a news report that French lawmakers had finally recommended a preaching ban on clerics affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group classified by most countries as a terrorist group.
Of course, if President Macron is serious about freeing French Muslims from the malign influence of outsiders, then French authorities must also seriously look into the devastating impact Qatar has had ideologically — despite its “soft power” acquisition of historic buildings and the purchase of Paris Saint-Germain.
Qatar is the Muslim Brotherhood’s main global financier and backer. To understand the impact of the evil ideas of this group, we recommend skimming through the horrific videos and fatwas our research team found on Yusuf Qaradawi, the Doha-based Muslim Brotherhood preacher.
A good start for French investigators might be a fascinating book entitled “Qatar Papers — How the State Finances Islam in France and Europe,” by French investigative reporters Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot. The book reveals how Qatar is pouring hundreds of millions into Muslim Brotherhood-controlled organizations across France.
- Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas