Official speeches and statements - December 1, 2020
Q. - Let’s start with the most recent events in France. After a wave of individual attacks, during which several civilians were killed, the French President declared to the imams of French mosques that it was necessary to "protect the image of Islam" as a religion and not turn it into a political movement dependent on funding and foreign agendas. How do you reconcile this demand with the existence of Islamic voluntary organizations, whose funding is unknown and which adopt extremist language?
We’re living through times of great violence - in France, but also in Europe and elsewhere in the world, from Nice to Vienna, from Christchurch to Kabul. We’re facing a terrorist threat combined with a climate of hatred stirred up by certain people. The threat today is twofold: it still comes from terrorist organizations such as Daesh and al-Qaida, which are continuing their terrorist action in the Middle East and Africa. It also exists because of individual terrorism, inspired by that approach.
France is also facing campaigns of insults, slander, exploitation and hatred from leaders of certain countries and groups, who among other things are using the power of social media and are trying to make people believe that France and Europe reject Islam.
I want to repeat: France has the utmost respect for Islam, a religion with which it maintains long-standing deep historical and cultural ties, within a rich relationship comprising cross-influences in the most varied spheres. What we’ve got to fight against, firstly, is all kinds of terrorism and, secondly, the excesses of extremism and radical ideologies. It’s a battle we want to and must wage alongside Muslims, who are the first victims of terrorism.
The French model of coexistence is one which receives praise, but some language is perceived as representing an encroachment on Islamic symbols and opening the door to incitement to hatred. Is there a reorganization of the relationship between political discourse and the reconciliation of Islam with the French model?
Our message is very clear: Islam occupies its rightful place in Europe. It’s a great religion, France’s second largest. The millions of French Muslims rightfully belong to the national community. They’re part of our Republic’s history and identity.
In France, practicing their faith, Muslims benefit from a protective framework which we uphold in a spirit of equality with all denominations.
Because at the heart of our law is the State’s neutrality and impartiality with regard to all religions. This means the freedom to believe or not believe, and, if you believe, the freedom to practice your religion. The State’s neutrality allows believers of all religions to be treated equally in France. When it comes to religions and firm beliefs, its impartiality puts into practice our country’s universal values: liberty, equality and fraternity among all citizens, without exception.
The freedom France has defended throughout its history places great responsibility on Muslim societies and all the other religions, but there are Muslims in France who are seeing increasingly racist language, in particular with left-wing discourse described as "extremist" for political-electoral purposes. What’s your assessment of that?
We are and shall remain vigilant about any hate speech or racist language. Whilst there may occasionally be tensions, we’re duty-bound to calm them down. Discrimination and hate speech go against our values. Our duty is to punish them and this is what we’re doing.
The facts speak for themselves: in France today there are nearly 3,000 Muslim places of worship, every week State television broadcasts a program on Islam as part of a morning devoted to religions, and there are Muslim chaplains working in the armed forces, prisons and hospitals. The public authorities maintain a close dialogue with representatives of Muslim organizations.
Some people believed, sometimes sincerely, that France was attacking Muslims. And some groups and political leaders twisted President Macron’s words, using social media. We cannot let people believe that France is somehow Islamophobic.
People instead need to listen to the many voices of Muslim intellectuals and leaders of the Muslim faith in France who have stood up over the past few weeks to remind people what their situation is really like in France.
France is a country of tolerance. It rejects terrorism and the attempts to divide French society. It refuses to accept citizens being discriminated on the basis of religion, be they Muslim, Christian or Jewish. We’ll always defend the freedom to practice Islam in France, and at the same time we’re determined to fight extremism and terrorism. The two aren’t incompatible, they’re complementary.
France is calling for what it terms "Islamist separatism" to be fought against in French districts which aim to establish what it has said is the creation of a "counter-society". Is this a real tendency to fight the parties and movements of "political Islam"?
What we’re fighting, uncompromisingly, are two threats: terrorism, the threat of which remains very much present, in France and Europe - as we’ve seen in recent weeks - and also throughout the world, including in Saudi Arabia, where two attacks targeted us in Jeddah two weeks apart; the excesses of extremism, which try to separate Muslims from French society and, simultaneously, France from the Muslim world, to which it is linked by centuries of history, common interests and so many human and family ties.
This extremism, which must be clearly distinguished from religion, is based on a radical ideology and sets political objectives. There’s Islam on one side and extremism on the other. In no way are we mixing them up.
We’re organizing the fight against terrorism and extremism in conjunction with our partners. Our determination to combat terrorist groups isn’t diminishing: this is the purpose of the military action which began several years ago and which we’re continuing with our partners in the Sahel and the Levant; it’s also the purpose of the efforts made by our intelligence services and our security forces and of their cooperation with their counterparts in friendly countries. Vigilance on France’s territory and protection measures are essential. We’re waging this battle against terrorism in cooperation with many of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s member States, be it within Global Coalition against Daesh or through our bilateral cooperation.
Moreover, it isn’t just France which has rejected the campaigns of hatred and those manipulating information on social media, but all our European partners, who, for example, clearly rejected Turkey’s behavior because they know it’s aimed at them too.
How do you view the accusations levelled against Muslim countries that they are trying to reorganize Islamist movements in France to categorize them as internal influential groups?
Links exist, naturally, between French Muslims and their countries of origin; this is normal and enriches France’s relationship with those countries with human, emotional ties. But there’s also - and this is something quite different - a desire on the part of some countries to exert political influence in France and control over some of the Muslim faithful, which is unacceptable.
We want French Muslims to be able to practice their religion freely, with dignity and peacefully; we want them to be both fully Muslim and fully French citizen. This is why we’d like to encourage the emergence of a French Islam, just as there’s a Saudi Islam and a Moroccan Islam. French Muslims must also be equally at ease with their Muslim faith as they are with our country’s values and the Republic’s principles.
This is why we’re encouraging institutions representing the Muslim faith in France to organize themselves more effectively to enable a close dialogue with the public authorities. It’s also why we’d like imams operating in France to be trained in France. As well as religious scholarship, this training must include a command of French and a knowledge of the French Republic’s fundamental principles.
Regarding foreign funding, we want it to be transparent to ensure that it isn’t spreading a radical ideology or divisions within French society.
What are you doing in France to tackle the issue of foreign fighters returning home from Syria and Iraq and areas of tension in the world?
People who joined the ranks of a terrorist organization in conflict areas automatically enter the criminal justice system when they return to French soil. The same applies to individuals who attempt to go to theatres of war from France to join Daesh or al-Qaida, because under French law this is liable to 10 years’ imprisonment.
As regards the current situation of terrorist fighters who went to Syria and Iraq, I’ve regularly said that they must be prosecuted as near as possible to where they committed their crimes. The Government’s priority has always been to protect our citizens, with due regard for our principles and our values. The adults we’re talking about - men and women - made the decision to join Daesh and fight in a warzone. Those men and women didn’t find themselves in Syria or Iraq by chance. The situation is different for children, who didn’t have a choice: this is why we’re endeavoring to organize their return - the most vulnerable, in particular - under often difficult conditions and from areas where we have no actual control. Our priority has always been to fight against the impunity of crimes committed by Daesh fighters. It’s a security issue; it’s also a justice issue with regard to their victims in the countries they visited.
Are you prepared to revisit or begin a discussion to classify Islamist movements on a terrorist list, especially since Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia have classified them on this type of list, which leads us to the Muslim Brotherhood, since it was proven that their ideology is responsible for acts of violence and incitement to terrorism?
France, which has been hit again by heinous attacks, is resolutely fighting against terrorism. When it comes to terrorism, we have no principle other than objectively analyzing the threat posed to our national security by the groups concerned.
Parallel to our fight against terrorism, which is the concern of the security services, we’re engaged in a battle against the influence of radical ideologies and the excesses of extremism. This battle is being fought on the field of ideas, against hate speech, ideologies that seek to hijack religion for political aims, and the attempts to separate our Muslim fellow citizens from the rest of society. In this respect, the Government has recently taken decisions to dissolve several voluntary organizations in France.
Since the beginning of the health crisis, foreigners who are married, in a PACS [civil union] or cohabiting with a French national have been one of the categories of people authorized to enter France, provided that - if arriving from a non-EU country identified as being in an area where the SARS-CoV-2 infection is circulating - they have a travel declaration for mainland France, which can be downloaded from the Interior Ministry website. They must also abide by the health conditions (test results; tests on arrival; 14-day quarantine etc.) required to enter the territory, depending on their country of origin.
These people remain subject to the rules applying to entry and residence, including the possible requirement to hold a visa depending on nationality. French consulates are also processing visas for partners as a priority.
Mindful of the difficult situations of our compatriots in relationships not formalized by a marriage, a PACS, a cohabitation contract or joint residence, who wish to meet their foreign partner in France, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior, with the Prime Minister’s agreement, have established an exceptional procedure for entering France which applies to foreign nationals who can prove to the relevant consulate that they were in a relationship with a French national for at least six months before borders closed and had previously stayed in France at least once.
They are also required to be capable of returning to their country of residence and to present a return ticket. They will be issued with exceptional permission to enter France, to stay for a maximum of 90 days. People holding these travel passes remain subject to the rules applicable to entry and residence in France (including the possible requirement to hold a visa depending on nationality). To date, 1,205 travel passes have been issued. This exceptional measure does not currently apply to foreigners wishing to accompany to France their French partner who resides abroad and is passing through France, or foreign partners of foreign nationals residing in France, the principle being the closure of the European area’s external borders for health reasons.