TCS Daily


In France, An Islamist Opportunity?

By Olivier Guitta - November 11, 2005 12:00 AM

After two weeks of intense rioting throughout France, many observers are pointing fingers at Muslim fundamentalists. Some even allege that French Islamists, who find support in the country's poor Arab ghettoes, are organizing the riots. This theory is far-fetched.

But that doesn't mean the Islamists don't stand to profit from the ongoing violence.  

When French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was asked on Monday about Islamist participation, he downplayed the issue. More significantly, the Renseignements Generaux -- a police unit that closely monitors the Islamists, mosques, militant banlieues and terror suspects -- confirmed that no Islamist influence could be observed.  

In fact, the French suburbs where radical Islam is most entrenched have been quiet. As terrorism expert Alain Bauer wisely observed: "The radical Islamists would rather see the return of calm so they can act quietly."  

Most radical Islamist Web sites I've browsed are calling on rioters to put down their rocks and molotov cocktails. One exhorts Muslims "not to give ammunition to the Zionist Nicolas Sarkozy scum who has now shown his real face as an Israeli terrorist" -- a reference to the country's hardline Interior Minister.  

Obviously, Islamists are not calling for calm out of sheer kindness. Their true motive is that they wish to become indispensable actors on the national political stage. They want to be viewed as an intermediary between the French state and the young Muslims of the banlieues or, ideally, all Muslims.  

This is the same strategy that has long been embraced by the Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF), an offshoot of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, and the second largest Muslim organization in France. Like other Islamist groups, the UOIF has been hard at work in France's Arab suburbs since the mid-1990's, radicalizing young Muslims and spreading the message that Islamic values are incompatible with a secular, multicultural society.  

One of UOIF's mottos is "Islam is the solution." And by even unofficially accepting its help during the current crisis, the French government is giving some credibility to that conceit.  

This fits in with the Muslim Brotherhood's global plan. According to Sylvain Besson, a Swiss investigative reporter and author of "La conquete de L'Occident: Le projet secret des Islamistes" (The conquest of the West: The secret project of the Islamists), Swiss authorities found a fascinating document when they entered a villa belonging to Yusuf Nada, one of al-Qaeda's alleged financiers, in November 2001. Entitled "The Project," the 14-page leaflet calls for the Brotherhood's conquest of Western nations through the birth of a parallel Muslim society and parallel Muslim public institutions.  

France, with its rigid adherence to secular Republicanism, has always dismissed such a threat. But thanks to immigration, the country is now at least 10% Muslim. Recent events suggest the Muslim Brotherhood's blueprint is not as other-wordly as it once seemed.  

But there are divisions in the Islamists' ranks. On Sunday, UOIF issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to stop the violence. In response, the largest "mainstream" Islamist Web site, oumma.com, which had been UOIF's conduit until recently, called the fatwa "delirious," and even accused UOIF of being a traitor organization that has sold its soul to the devil Sarkozy. The rift centers on tactics: Some Islamists see the violence as a useful means to extract concessions, and want it to continue. Nonetheless, both sides share the same ambition -- to turn France into Europe's first Islamic republic.  

The hundreds of rioters being thrown into French jails may also play into the Islamists' hands. Prison has always been a prime recruiting ground for radical European Muslims. Expect many of the new inmates to return to French headlines as jihadis. However the violence ends, Islamists will be the true winner.  

Olivier Guitta is a consultant on foreign affairs.
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