In early March, a letter was sent to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen by the “International Coalition Against Islamophobia,” denouncing the “French Islamophobic laws”. This tendentious document presents itself as an “urgent call” to protect Muslims, who are allegedly threatened by a repressive French state overreaction in the wake of the murder of schoolteacher Samuel Paty by a jihadist who accused him of blasphemy. The twenty-five groups that signed the letter self-describe as “organisations and individuals … who are comprised of or who represent French Muslim citizens”; this is untrue in all respects. The signatories are Islamist extremists, many of them related to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the overwhelming majority are not French.
In twenty-two pages and nearly 5,000 words, Samuel Paty’s name is mentioned just four times, and on all occasions as an instrument in the authors’ attempt to deflect attention from what was done to Paty to criticising the French state’s reaction to it. Thus, the claim is that “the French government has exploited the killing of Samuel Paty for its own racist, discriminative and Islamophobic agenda … [for] the unjustified political, ideological, theological, and financial control of Muslim communities”.
The letter makes no mention of Abdullakh Anzorov, the Chechen Islamist who beheaded Paty in the street, nor that Anzorov’s crime was motivated by his ideological belief that Paty had violated the laws of Islam. The nearest the letter comes to mentioning this crime is when it decries the counter-terrorism raids that have taken place since the murder against Anzorov’s co-conspirators and enablers: rather than sensible law-and-order measures, the letter’s authors say this is the French state “send[ing] a message”.
Given that the letter is so exacting in its sensitivities that the “traumatised children” of people arrested in these raids are mentioned, it is extraordinary that there is not even a pro-forma condemnation of Paty’s murder anywhere in the letter.
Instead, the letter claims that “there is no real or effective remedy within the French legal system to stop the continuation of structural and systemic Islamophobia by the French government” and calls for supranational intervention from the European Union to uphold the human rights of Muslims in France. This lawfare strategy has apparently included this “Coalition” filing a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council in January.
The letter makes very broad claims of official “hate and negativity towards Islam” in France that “has increased to a threatening and unacceptable degree”. But when the letter presents its evidence for this, it transpires that their complaint is that French President Emmanuel Macron intends to enforce the laws in his country, including its constitutional secularism (laïcité), which includes the state approval of clergy and a ban on home-schooling.
The signatories are also agitated—unsurprising, given who they are—about France having Muslim populations contribute to counter-radicalization programs, and particularly about the crackdown that has closed about fifty “charities” that had been channelling funds to support the propagation of extremism, if not outright terrorism.
The letter claims that Macron has engaged in “hostile and disproportionate policies”, indeed a “witch-hunt,” and has “violated international charters pertaining to the freedom of religion” by trying to draw up a “Charter of Republican Values” with the Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), a body that actually can claim to represent French Muslims. Sweeping accusations are made that the Charter is “discriminatory by nature” and an “aggressive” imposition on Muslims, with no relevance to combatting extremism. There is not even an attempt to present evidence that this is so.
The true intentions of the letter—and the ideological commitments of its authors—are contained in three of the specific charges laid against France.
First, the letter directly supports the imposition of an Islamic blasphemy law in France of the kind that Anzorov believed he was enforcing when he hacked Paty to death. The letter says that “cartoons defaming the Prophet (peace be upon him) are in violation of UN law” and “insulting the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) does not fall under the right to free speech”, claims as factually challenged as they are morally abhorrent.
Second, Macron’s campaign against political Islam is declared to be “problematic” and to in fact be a “clear attempt to remove Muslims from the civil society and public life of France”. The truth is that this term is quite well-understood—as the authors themselves partly demonstrate when they worry that it will include a group like Tablighi Jamaat—and the authors simply oppose the attempt by France’s government to limit the spread of this extremist doctrine.
Third and finally, the letter attacks France for trying to have its Muslims give their primary loyalty to the state that has given them shelter, as against the global ummah (Muslim community) as conceived by Islamists. This is framed in “liberal” terms of free speech and as a criticism of a French attempt to curtail “the natural concerns of Muslims living in a globalised world for the rest of Europe and the world”.
The letter concludes with sly threats, saying Paris’ actions are “deeply counter-productive to their state[d] aims to reduce ‘radicalisation’,” and, “If this discrimination continues, it will be counter-productive in the long term for France.”
The letter was submitted to the E.U. by a law firm based in Rotterdam called Sabir’s Legal Services (SLS), which has a history of pro-Islamist advocacy. It was no surprise that the only outlet an SLS spokesman was made available to was Anadolu, the state media of the Islamist government in Turkey, which has been involved in a geopolitical spat with France, particularly about the issues involved in this letter—Paty’s murder, Islamophobia, and foreign influence on French mosques.
“Islamophobia is not only a widespread and serious phenomenon in Right-wing circles, but it is also ingrained in the mainstream of European societies,” Ms. Sabir told Anadolu. This is in-keeping with the strategy of the Turkish government under Recep Tayyip Erdogan to use “Islamophobia” as a cudgel against Western governments.
Erdogan has made it a central part of his political propaganda to exaggerate the extent of Islamophobia in Europe, for example by having think tanks like SETA that are loyal to his government produce products that play into this narrative. The purpose is to make Muslims feel under threat, and to present Erdogan’s Turkey as their protector. It is a strategy that has had some success, not least because so many in the West have swept themselves into a moral panic about the size and power of white supremacist movements.
In terms of individual groups, a tell-tale signatory is CAGE from the United Kingdom. CAGE presents itself as a civil rights organization concerned with the fate of the jihadist at Guantanamo Bay. In reality, CAGE is a terrorist advocacy organization, which is quite a different thing—and this was obvious long before the incident that has made CAGE infamous in the UK.
In February 2015, CAGE held a press conference, led by its “research director” Asim Qureshi. CAGE had been under pressure because of the revelations about its links to Mohammed Emwazi, dubbed by the British tabloids “Jihadi John,” the man who had beheaded numerous Western hostages in gruesome Islamic State videos. This was CAGE’s attempt to answer for, or at least to do damage-limitation on its reputation, after the revelations about its disturbing pattern of contacts with terrorists. It was a disaster. Qureshi declared that Emwazi was “a beautiful young man,” and blamed all of Emwazi’s subsequent behaviour on “harassment” by the British security services that made him feel like an “outsider”—inverting the truth, which was the Emwazi had come to the attention of the security services after a trip to Somalia to join Al-Qaeda’s branch there.
The other British signatories to the letter are likewise red flags. Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) are a notorious Islamist group that masquerades as a civil rights organization, and much the same is true of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
One American signatory, the Yaqeen Institute, is led by Dr. Omar Suleiman, whose career is devoted to ensuring nobody challenges the ideology behind jihadism, while publishing dangerous glorifications of the caliphate.
The other American signatory, the Islamophobia Studies Center, is run by Hatem Bazian, the chairman of the board of the American Muslims for Palestine, which is deeply embedded in the Brotherhood-HAMAS networks in the United States.
The signatory from Belgium, the European Network on Religion and Belief (ENORB), is a front for the Muslim Brotherhood in that country.
On and on it goes.
Good-faith cost-benefit analysis and debate is vital when it comes to tackling terrorism and the ideologies that drive it. The March 2021 letter from the “International Coalition Against Islamophobia” to the European Union is not that; it is an attempt by Islamist extremists to weaken the defences of societies already under considerable strain from this movement.