The world woke up yesterday [Friday, June 26] to the horror of a triple jihadi attack: one at a beach resort in Tunisia, killing 37 and wounding as many; one in a Kuwait city mosque, killing and injuring scores of Shia worshippers; and one at a gas factory in France, in the city of St Quentin, department of Isère, where company manager Hervé C. was decapitated in broad daylight by one of his employees, Yassin Salhi, a 35-year old who was known to the secret services for his ties to the Salafist movement.
Salhi had lately been busy collecting funds for the construction of a big complex including a mosque, a madrassa and a kindergarten. Hervé’s head was found planted on a metal fence, flanked by flags with Arabic inscriptions of the ‘shehada’, the Islamic profession of faith. The attacker also tried to blow the whole factory up, but he was caught in action. The chemical plant was American-owned.
It was barely on June 15 that France’s PM Manuel Valls had convened a Forum to discuss the place of Islam in France. He had opened it on these words: “Islam is France’s second religion, and it is here to stay!” The five last words were uttered quite forcefully, one could even say defiantly. It is to be noted that whereas it is factually true that Islam is France’s second religion—largely as a result of a senseless immigration policy pursued by the last three governments—it is still a distant second. Muslims only account for 5 to 6 million of France’s total population, a figure hardly justifying Valls’s bombastic pronouncements.
Dalil Boubakeur, President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith , was quick to capitalize on that unexpected reinforcement from France’s current Prime Minister and former Minister of the Interior. On the following day, he asked for the conversion of “empty churches” into mosques. In an interview given to Jean-Pierre Elkabach, Boubakeur asserted that there was an “ever growing demand for mosques” and he insisted on the balancing effect that mosques could have on the Muslim community.
Disenfranchised, violence-prone Muslims could be kept on the straight and narrow or even rehabilitated by their local preachers in a way that incarceration could not hope to achieve. Boubakeur wanted to double the current number of French mosques, which stood at 2,500, with 300 under construction. However, while prisons are undeniably a breeding ground for violence and antisocial behavior, the same can be said of mosques. So much so that President Sisi himself, in Muslim-majority Egypt, closed down 27,000 of them last March.
Inmates who get further radicalized in prisons would not be there had they not already been radicalized elsewhere, in mosques for example.
Valls’s grandstanding did not stop at the above words. He also made the rather astonishing declaration that Islam was perfectly compatible with democracy and equal rights for women, and that he would prove that France could be the “Harvard of Islam” and a beacon of interreligious conviviality—the French much touted notion of “le vivre ensemble.”
He could pursue an open door policy towards a mostly Muslim immigration, then throw all components of the French society, disparities and all, into one cauldron that he would keep stirring in hopes of preserving the homogeneity of the brew. Meanwhile, social cohesion was an intractable challenge even for Arab leaders of nations having organically grown together over the centuries. Could so much self-delusion really exist?
In any event, it will be interesting now to quiz Mr. Valls—when he returns from his trip to South America—on what he thinks of that last display of peaceful coexistence on French soil.
As for Marine Le Pen, leader of the ‘Front National’ – an increasingly popular party focused on national identity but which denies being far right – she swiftly reacted to the latest tragedy and castigated the government for its “inaction” that sometimes amounted to “complicity.” She demanded “immediate and strong measures” to “defeat Islamism.” A member of her party accused Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve of not protecting the French.
In addition to her recurrent call for the “restoration of France’s national borders,” Le Pen wanted “all foreigners suspected of Islamic fundamentalism” to be “expelled from the national territory as soon as possible. Not just “terror suspects”—”Islamic fundamentalists” too.
Le Pen also wanted to “freeze” the construction of mosques. Finally, referring to “the spirit of 11 January,” she wrote: “Enough already of long-winded speeches. Marches, slogans and emotional exchanges must finally give way to action.”