On September 24, the French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, announced that “The fight against Islamist ideology has passed a decisive point”. His announcement came as France’s highest court, the Council of State, ruled in favour of his decision in October last year to close down BarakaCity, a charitable organisation, and the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), an organisation that monitors Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes. Both organisations were accused of propagating Islamist propaganda in the wake of the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty on October 16, 2020.
BarakaCity and CCIF: dissolutions confirmed
BarakaCity and CCIF were dissolved on the grounds that they fell under Article L. 212-1 of the Internal Security Code. This makes it possible to dissolve groups which provoke discrimination, hatred or violence towards people because of their ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion. Groups can also be closed down under this code if they are found to propagate ideas or theories which justify or encourage such discrimination, hatred or violence, or if they engage in acts that provoke terrorism.
The court validated the dissolution of BarakaCity, noting that between 2017 and 2019, its publications on social networks “elicited openly antisemitic comments, inciting violence and murder or even calling for it sometimes directly, or comments condoning crimes against the humanity”. The organisation was found not to have attempted the suppression of such comments. The administrative judge indicated that “numerous publications” by the president of the association, Driss Yemmou Sihamedi (aka Idriss Sihamedi), constituted “hate speech and incitement to hatred or violence”; these included the call “for divine punishment for the victims of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper on September 3, 2020”.
The dissolution of the CCIF had reportedly been contested by some jurists, but the Council of State affirmed that the CCIF maintained “close links with supporters of radical Islamism inviting the evasion of certain laws of the Republic”. The administrative judge stated that one of the former leaders of CCIF, Marwan Muhammad, “publicly made statements tending to relativize, even legitimize, the attacks against the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014 and against the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015”. Muhammad was a guest speaker twice since Paty’s murder at the East London Mosque, described by a Department for Communities and Local Government paper as “the key institution for the Bangladeshi wing of [Jamaat-e-Islami] in the UK”. The judge also declared the CCIF responsible for antisemitic messages posted by the users of its social networks, and accused the group of spreading the “unqualified” idea that the French public authorities’ fight against terrorism would lead to a fight against Islam and Muslims.
Although the judge also accused the group of promoting the ideas of a former treasurer of the Salafist group Anâ-Muslim – who “has repeatedly legitimized the use of terrorism” – the high court rejected the accusation that CCIF provoked acts of terrorism. It stated, “The fact that the CCIF maintains links with the radical Islamist movement does not in itself establish that it would encourage or legitimize acts of terrorism”.
CAGE and 5Pillars obfuscate
CCIF’s dissolution has, ironically, possibly strengthened its appeal and remit. Its closure in France promoted CCIF to re-establish itself in Belgium, where it was formed in November 2020 as the Collective against Islamophobia in Europe (CCIE). The closure has also attracted some support from Islamist allies across Europe, convinced that France’s actions, in the words of CCIF, are “a prime example of the very institutional Islamophobia that CCIF has highlighted and an abuse of human rights”. The British activist group, CAGE, for example, stated, “This dissolution follows a pattern of targeting of Muslim civil society organisations using baseless accusations that would never be levelled against non-Muslims”. CAGE’s accusation that the French government is targeting Muslims groups, however, is false.
Non-Muslim groups have been dissolved in France. In April 2021, the Council of Ministers confirmed the dissolution of the neo-fascist group Bastion Social (Social Bastion), along with six related groups (Les Petits Reblochons, Association Lugdunum, Cercle Frédéric Mistral, Cercle Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, Association Arvernis, and Solidarité Argentoratum). In July 2019, President Macron closed down the neo-Nazi group Blood and Honour Hexagone. In November 2020, Macron banned the ultra-nationalist group Loups Gris (Grey Wolves). In May, 2021, the Council of State upheld Darmanin’s decision to dissolve the far-right group Génération identitaire (Generation Identity), which the court considered as advocating “an ideology inciting hatred and violence towards foreigners and the Muslim religion”. The most recent closure of a non-Muslim group was that of Ligue de défense noire africaine (Black African Defence League, LDNA), which was closed on September 29, 2021. By claiming that the French government is targeting Muslim groups, and ignoring the fact that anti-Muslim groups have been closed down, CAGE is presenting a distorted picture of the plight of Muslims in France.
The website 5Pillars carried a lengthy statement from CCIF that argued in its defence. The statement concluded “The CCIF was directly criticised for denouncing Islamophobia among public institutions and the administration. For the Council of State that is enough to constitute incitement to hatred which would go beyond the protection of freedom of expression”. But, as is clear from the court’s statements above, the accusation of CCIF’s incitement to hatred was not based upon the organisation’s denunciation of institutional Islamophobia.
Both CAGE and 5Pillars have thus contributed to the discussion of France’s treatment of Islamist extremism without acknowledging the larger picture: France is not just banning Muslim groups, and those that are banned are treated as such not because they accuse the state of Islamophobia, but because they are deemed to incite or encourage the incitement of hatred or violence. CAGE’s demonstrably false and alarmist statements concerning France’s alleged bias against Muslim groups, vis-à-vis their dissolution, is of particular concern for the potential damage such statements can do to social cohesion in Europe. They ought to be challenged wherever possible.