On October 16, a history teacher who had shown his students cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad was beheaded in a Paris suburb. The murderer, who tried to attack the police attempting to arrest him, was shot and killed while shouting “Allahu Akbar”. Pictured: Police officers stand guard near the site where the teacher’s murderer was killed. (Photo by Abdulmonam Eassa/AFP via Getty Images)
Paris, October 16. A history teacher who had shown his students cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and had spoken with them about freedom of speech was beheaded in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a small town in the suburbs of Paris. The murderer, who tried to attack the police attempting to arrest him, was shot and killed while shouting “Allahu Akbar”. According to the public prosecutor, he was a family member of one of the students. The facts are still unfolding….
A few weeks before that, on September 25, Zaheer Hassan Mehmood, a 25-year-old Pakistani man, attacked and seriously injured two people with a cleaver. When he tried to escape, he was arrested by police. He had entered France illegally in 2018, had appeared before a judge to ask for asylum and to benefit from the status of an “isolated minor”. The information he gave the judge was false: he had said he was 18 years old. The judge accepted his request and refused any method of determining his real age. Since then, Mehmood has been financially supported by the French government. It gave him housing, training and a monthly allowance.
Just before the attack, Mehmood posted a video on a social network in which he tried to justify his act. He wanted, he said, to kill people working for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo because it had republished the cartoons that had triggered the murderous attack on the magazine in January 2015. He wanted, he said, to avenge the offense done to the Prophet Muhammad. He stated his allegiance to Ilyas Qadri, founder of Dawat-e-Islami, a Sufi movement that claims to condemn violence, even though its members have nevertheless murdered people they accused of blasphemy.
In September, Mehmood had gone to the magazine’s old address. The people he injured were not working for Charlie Hebdo, which had long since moved, but for a documentary production company. They are now disfigured for the rest of their lives.
The attack sadly shows that criticizing Islam is still an extremely dangerous activity. Anyone even suspected of doing it can be injured or killed, anytime, anywhere. It also shows that one can decide to attack or become a murderer even if one does not belong to an organization defined as jihadist, or shown no signs of radicalization. The attack once again confirms the existence of what Daniel Pipes has called “sudden jihad syndrome“.
The attack shows that, in addition, France, like other Western countries, is abysmally lax in guiding those who are arriving on its soil and asking for its help. A man can lie about his age and identity without their being detected and without tighter controls. The attack shows that declaring oneself an “isolated minor” in France can be sufficient not to be observed at all and still receive full assistance from the government. The attack also suggests a disappointing grade for gratitude.
Logic would require that a defense of freedom of expression be immediately and unanimously affirmed; that the government call for vigilance in the face of extremist danger, which seems to be persistent, and that more stringent controls on those who apply for asylum be set up. None of those improvements has taken place.
On September 23, two days before Mehmood’s attack, an article purporting to defend freedom of speech was published in France by 90 newspapers. The article said that “women and men of our country have been murdered by fanatics, because of their opinions… we must join forces,” it added, “to drive away fear and make our indestructible love of freedom triumph”. The article seemed deliberately vague. It did not mention who the murderers were or what might have motivated them.
The day after the attack, several commentators counseled that in France, the love of freedom was not indestructible. They prescribed self-censorship and ventured — unfortunately “blaming the victim” — that those who had decided to republish the cartoons were the ones responsible for the attack. “When you repost cartoons”, Anne Giudicelli, a journalist, said on television, “you play into the hands of these organizations. By not saying certain things, you reduce the risks.”
“When you shock a person”, TV host Cyril Hanouna ventured, “you have to stop. Charlie Hebdo drawings pour oil on the fire”.
The persistence of Islamic danger was not mentioned, except by the journalist Éric Zemmour. Ironically, on the day of the attack, Zemmour was sentenced to a heavy fine (10,000 euros, nearly $12,000) for remarks on Islam in September 2019. He had said at the time that “Muslim foreign enclaves” exist in France. They do. At least 750 of them. He also noted that attacks in the name of Islam have not disappeared and seem likely to increase. The French justice system decided to regard these words as “incitement to hatred”.
After the cleaver attack, no one requested tightening controls on asylum seekers, except, again, Zemmour. He said that “the uncontrolled presence of unaccompanied minors on the French territory is a very serious problem” and that “we must no longer welcome unaccompanied minors in France as long as drastic controls are not put in place”. He recalled that many self-proclaimed unaccompanied minors lie about their age, commit crimes, and turn out to be “thieves and assassins”.
His words immediately caused a massive scandal. Even though he did not say a single word about race or religion, dozens of complaints were lodged against him by “anti-racist associations”, and the French Ministry of Justice robotically opened another investigation against him for “incitement to racial hatred” and “Islamophobic prejudice”. He will most likely again be condemned by the courts.
Facts, however, prove Zemmour is right. The National Observatory of Delinquency and Penal Responses (ONDRP), an organization that analyzes crime in France, recently published reports noting that 60% of assaults, murders and violent robberies committed in France in 2019 were indeed committed by “unaccompanied minors”. ONDPR published still another study, disclosing that, on average, 120 knife attacks per day occur in France and that those attacks are committed by “unaccompanied minors” or “refugees” coming from the Muslim world.
In addition, France’s Directorate-General for Internal Security (DGSI) reported a few weeks ago, that, since January 2015, 59 Islamist attacks have been thwarted in France. Those, of course, not thwarted include the attack against Charlie Hebdo; the murders the same day in a kosher supermarket; a mass murder in the Bataclan Theater; the murder of Arnaud Beltrame, who took a bullet to shield others; the murders of Fr. Jacques Hamel; of schoolchildren and others in Toulouse, of elderly Jews in Paris, and of at least 84 people watching fireworks in Nice. These attacks were all committed by French Muslims or Muslims legally present in France.
French laws currently make it possible to prosecute just about anything regarded as “incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence against a person or a group of people because of their origin or their belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a religion.” An openly Marxist organization of judges, the Judiciary Union (Syndicat de la magistrature), has steadily gained influence and uses applicable laws to suppress any criticism of either Islam or immigration. They work together with organizations such as SOS Racism, founded in 1984 by members to the left of the Socialist Party; the Movement against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP), created in 1949 by members of the French Communist Party (the MRAP was initially called Movement Against Racism, anti-Semitism and for Peace, and removed “anti-Semitism and for Peace” from its name in 1989, when it devoted itself almost entirely to the fight “Islamophobic racism“); the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), created in 2003 by members of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), the French branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Coordination Against Racism and Islamophobia (CRI), created in 2009.
Any criticism of Islam in France can lead to legal action. The French mainstream media, threatened with prosecution by their own government, have evidently decided no longer to invite on air anyone likely to make comments that could lead to convictions or complaints. Zemmour might still appear on television, but the increasingly heavy fines imposed on him are aimed at silencing him and potentially punishing stations that invite him.
No French political leader dares to say what he says, not even Marine Le Pen. She has been condemned several times by the French judicial system, and, as in the former Soviet Union, ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for having shown the public what ISIS was doing to “disbelievers”. She has evidently now decided to be “careful”.
The French authorities continue to ignore most of the violent attacks committed in the name of Islam. When they occurred — against a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, or against Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket 2015, or at the Bataclan Theater in 2015, or by the truck-ramming in Nice in 2016 — the country’s leaders promised “firmness” but delivered nothing.
A week after the September 25 attack, French President Emmanuel Macron again delivered a speech that pledged “firmness”. He denounced “Islamic separatism” and the “Islamic indoctrination” practiced by radical preachers. He said he would fight terrorism and “liberate French Islam from foreign influences” and that in French schools and universities, he would “strengthen the teaching of Islamic civilization” and “teaching the Arabic language“. He said nothing that he has not said before. Seven months ago, on February 18, he gave almost the identical speech in Alsace.
Ibrahim Mounir, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, nevertheless accused Macron of “hurting the feelings of more than two billion Muslims” and of “acting deliberately to incite Muslims to renounce their religion”. He added: “The beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood have always been able to overcome the mistakes of regimes using illegal and inhuman abuses to distort our religion”. Manon Aubry, MEP from the leftist party Rebellious France, commented that “Macron obsessively wants to stigmatize Muslims”.
Marine Le Pen, head of the National Rally Party, said that “Macron omitted certain subjects, probably deliberately: he said nothing on terrorism, and nothing on immigration”. She added that “massive immigration is the breeding ground of communitarianism [empowering groups rather than individuals], which itself is the breeding ground of Islamist fundamentalism”.
The journalist Celine Pina noted that Macron did not speak about the status of asylum seekers. “Once again,” she wrote, “Macron refuses really to tackle the causes of the problems that the French suffer. The government fights terrorism by pretending not to see the link between the propaganda of political Islam and the proliferation of violent acts”.
Columnist Ivan Rioufol wrote that “the measures Macron is advocating do not respond at all to the urgency of the threat.”
Jean Messiha, a senior civil servant of Coptic Christian origin and member of the National Rally party, noted that “Islam does not seek to separate but to conquer”. He added that “speaking of an Islam of France dissociated from Islam itself does not make any sense”. As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan correctly noted, “There is no extremist Islam or moderate Islam; Islam is Islam and that’s it”.
Messiha also suggested that “strengthening the teaching of Islamic civilization is not a priority at a moment when so many young French people no longer know what French civilization is”, and that “strengthening the teaching of Arabic will simply help to nourish ‘cultural replacement'”.
France is now the European country with the largest Muslim population (around six million, or nearly 10% of the total population); each year, moreover, thousand more people from the Muslim world arrive in France. Most of the Muslims living in France today reside in Muslim neighborhoods from which most non-Muslims have fled.
A 2016 study showed that 29% of Muslims living in France believe that Islamic law is superior to French law, and that they must first and foremost obey the laws of Islam. A recent study shows that four years later, the situation has only worsened. Now, 40% of Muslims living in France believe that Islamic law is superior to French law. Eighteen percent of French Muslims also apparently think that the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo in 2015 was justified. Among Muslims between the ages of 18- 25, that number rises to 26%.
Studies show that if migratory flows continue at the current pace, France could become a Muslim-majority country within 30 to 40 years. Other European countries are moving in the same direction; their leaders are behaving no more courageously than French leaders are. Censorship against anti-Islamic statements is increasing rapidly across the continent.
Abdelaziz Chaambi, director of the group Coordination Against Racism and Islamophobia, recently said that “the data shows that France will be Muslim in a few decades… Islam is the second religion, the second community in France, and those who do not like Muslims have to leave France”.
At the end of the speech that earned Zemmour his September 25 court sentence, he told the French, “You are right to be afraid”.
A trial is now underway in Paris for those who attacked Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket in 2015. The trial, however, is largely meaningless. All the terrorists are dead. The defendants are simply people who provided weapons or shelter to the terrorists. It is easy for them to say they did not know whom they were hosting or for what the weapons were intended. They have even said that they do not know anything about jihad.
Commenting on a news report that stated, “The trial has sparked protests across France, with thousands of demonstrators rallying against Charlie Hebdo and the French government,” the American attorney and commentator, John Hinderaker, wrote: “When thousands demonstrate against the prosecution of alleged murderers, you know you have a problem.”
On October 9, Macron announced that he had secured the release of a woman held hostage by a jihadist group in Mali. The release was obtained in exchange for a ransom of $12 million and the freeing of 200 jihadists ready to return to combat against the French military. The hostage, Sophie Petronin, a 75-year-old aid worker, said she converted to Islam, that her name is now Myriam, and that she wants to quickly go back to Mali to live among jihadists. She said she understands why the jihadists fight the French army. France is officially at war with the jihadists in Mali. Macron, it seems, has an oddball, idiosyncratic way of waging war.
This is not the first time that France has paid a ransom — a practice many countries emphatically reject because it only invites more hostage-taking. Between 2008-2014, to free hostages, France has paid $58 million, more than any other country. Where does one sign up?
Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.
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