As French forces, with the support of western allies, including the UK
, as well as a number of African countries, made progress in liberating the cities of Gao
and Timbuktu in northern Mali this week, France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls
announced a step up in the campaign against radical extremism of France’s home front, reports Les Echos
. Valls said he expected France to expel a number of radical Islamist clerics over the course of the coming days. As yet, there is no information as to the identity and numbers of imams likely to be deported from France.
Valls was speaking at an international conference in Brussels, Belgium, reports Le Nouvel Observateur
, on the fight against violent extremism and said, "Many radical preachers of foreign origin will be deported in the coming days." Whilst stressing the need to avoid generalisations, Valls said the measure was part of a process designed to prevent further radicalisation and combat radical Islam and "global jihadism."
“I do not confuse this radical Islam with Islam as practised in France generally, but there is a religious environment, there are groups who adhere to Salafism, which is a political process, which quite simply aims to monopolize, at the same time, associations and the educational process and which has taken a firm grip in the minds of many families.”
Valls continued, “We will expel all these imams, these preachers, these foreigners who prey on women, hold beliefs contrary to our values and who advocate the need to fight France. From this standpoint, there is a need to be extremely resolute, and I will be.”
Calls for a joint effort
A number of speakers at the Brussels conference also highlighted the role of the internet in spreading extremist ideas, propaganda and training.
On this point, the French Interior Minister also spoke of the need for European Union nations to act in concert against the rise of violent extremism. In particular he made calls for steps to be taken to eliminate the virtual legal immunity enjoyed by radical Islamists using the internet to further jihadist aims. Valls said, “We face a strong threat from the radicalization of individuals determined to do us harm."
The internet, Valls said, had “become a vector for the spread of propaganda and calls to action.” Hinting that some form of regulation of the internet was under consideration to combat extremism, he said, “The Internet can no longer be the privileged place for the exchange of information, training and techniques. Action must be taken which involves both hosting and service providers.”
To illustrate his point, Valls made reference to steps taken in France a few days ago which forced Twitter to divulge information
to help identify the perpetrators of racist and anti-Semitic tweets as an example of what could be done.
He recognised though, that the segmentation of legal systems in the European Union presently acted as a veil allowing those intent on furthering radical Islam to operate with a high degree of impunity. As a counter, Valls called for both transatlantic co-operation and new legislation at national or European level, urging, "We can legislate at national or European level, but internet connections respect no borders. Twitter is based in the United States and enjoys the shelter of the First Amendment, which protects freedom of expression. Europe must prevail and convince the United States that there must be a compromise, a balance between freedom of expression and security."
Recognising that France, in common with other European countries, was facing radicalization of both the ultra-left and ultra right Valls saw the most immediate danger as coming from radical Islam. He commented, “the most current threat is that of global jihadism,” and in passing reference to events in Mali, said, “We must root out the problem at its source.” He also expressed concerns about events in Syria, “because many young Frenchmen are engaged in a country (Syria) where they will receive combat training.”
France has, on occasions, suffered badly at the hands of radical Islam, most notably the siege in Toulouse in March 2012. Valls made reference to the Toulouse slaughter in his speech in Brussels. The Minister said the Toulouse assassin, Mohamed Merah
, was not a ‘lone wolf’ like Anders Behring Breivik
, the perpetrator of the mass killings in Norway in July 2011, reports Le Parisien
. In Toulouse, Merah killed seven people including three Jewish children before being shot dead by armed French police. Valls said, “The actions of Merah were the result of careful preparation, a learning process involving many contacts. Clearly, he was not acting alone. He carried out the killings on his own but he had travelled in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had contacts and he lived in an environment where he undoubtedly received rudimentary weapons training.”
The imminent expulsion of imams from France will not be the first ordered by Interior Minister Valls. Last November, as reported in Digital Journal, Valls expelled radical Tunisian imam Mohamed Hammami
after accusing him of advocating “violent jihad”, violence against women and anti-semitism.