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On 14 January 2021, Dominic Grieve published the report of his Independent Commission into Governance and Vetting within Islamic Relief. This body had been set up four months earlier after Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) had been exposed to “reputational damage” because of “the unacceptable comments and views of a small number of trustees and a member of its senior staff”. As described previously on this blog, the controversies surrounding Islamic relief had led a number of governments, including the United States, to reconsider their relations with the group.
The distinguished Algerian novelist, essayist and journalist, Kamel Daoud, has written in Le Monde (29 January 2021) an article under the title, “France has what it takes to shape the future of Islam”. He compares the situation in France favourably with that in Muslim-majority states. The former, he says, has shown a willingness to bring into the open key issues about a Muslim crisis of identity, and the challenges of dealing with domestic terrorism; he sees in Paris a government which is trying to come to terms with its colonial past. By contrast, in many Muslim-majority states he sees only the suppression of freedom of thought and expression. According to Daoud, this opens up the possibility – through a mixture of negotiation and pressure – of creating a specifically French and republican Islam and providing a model for other countries facing the same challenge. He calls on French Muslim leaders to give priority to the human not the divine; to support freedom of conscience; and to show that it is possible to live one’s faith without impinging on the lives, or rights, of others.
On 21 January the French Centrist weekly, L’Express, published a long and trenchant interview with Bernard Rougier, the university professor and Middle East specialist, on the occasion of a new and expanded edition of his 2020 book, Les territoires conquis de l’islamisme (“The Territories Conquered by Islamism”). The interview covers the major themes of the book – notably its claim that Islamists have created in France (and by extension elsewhere) a social space dominated by Islamist ideology which enables them to act as gatekeepers to sometimes widely separated Muslim communities. Rougier argues that they are to some extent facilitated in this endeavour by a State that increasingly seems to model its interaction with such communities on “an Ottoman or Lebanese model” of consociationalism. Rougier believes that this is fundamentally destructive of France’s republican and secular tradition. He also thinks that it enables Islamists to blur the important distinction between Islamism as an ideology and Islam as a faith system, a sociology and a civilisation.