Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How Muslim fundamentalists recruit in France

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe and is rightly concerned about what some of them are up to. France also has top notch domestic intelligence services, which have penetrated many of the more radical Islamic groups. From France's Le Figaro is this glimpse into the Islamic netherworld:

How do people become religious fanatics in France in 2006? A recent note drawn up by General Intelligence [RG], which Le Figaro was able to consult, offers some pointers. RG describes the actors (both targets and recruiters,) the movements, and the environments within which this radicalization occurs.

With regard to the actors, the report stresses, in order to avoid any stigmatization, that France has some 5m Muslim citizens. Out of this total the radicals apparently focus mainly on young practicing Muslims, who are estimated to total slightly more than 200,000. By way of comparison, the most dangerous tendency, the Salafists, have only 5,000 supporters.

Recruiters have a strong presence. In almost all instances, they are older than their targets (average age 30, according to the report.) RG notes that they do not start with religious arguments but approach them in connection with the difficulties in their everyday lives. Recruiters try to discover their desires and focuses of interest. According to the note, many of them have pursued their studies and many pursue scientific professions. They often claim to have succeeded thanks to Islam.

As for the recruitment pool, the report talks about young Frenchmen in city areas, mostly from families originating from the Maghreb of Black Africa, in economic difficulties. RG stresses that radicalization is affecting "younger and younger people more and more quickly". Hence the need to detect approaches as early as possible. Women are apparently playing an increasingly active part in this radicalization process. The proliferation of Internet chat rooms for women is a sign of this. Converts also offer the Salafists an attractive target. According to RG, a quarter of the 1,610 converts recorded in 2005 joined this ideology. In prison, 12 per cent of those identified as proselytes are converts.

The report identifies two major schools of thought as regards radical re-Islamization. On the one hand there are the pietists, particularly of the Tabligh, a movement of
Indian-Pakistani origins based in France since 1972 (10 per cent of practicing Muslims.) Numerous terrorists discovered in recent years spent time in their schools in Europe and in the Pakistan-Afghanistan area. On the other hand there is Salafism - the enemy of the former - described, on account of its activism and praise of the jihad, as "the hard core of the threat to the Republic". Having first appeared in France in 1997, it appears to have no organized structure, but RG stresses that it is tending to develop.

The Salafists are working to occupy locations where radicalization can be preached. First, mosques, which provide rallying points, propaganda opportunities, and sources of funding through collections. Second, prisons, described by the report's authors as "the setting for proselytism and active recruitment". A total of 173 "proselytes" have been recorded, out of a population of some 60,000 prisoners, including 2,000 classed as "dangerous". Muslim common criminals are apparently more active than sentenced terrorists under close surveillance. The fundamentalists have apparently set themselves a new target - clandestine Muslim schools and creches. To support their arguments, the report cites the recommendations made by the doctors of the Salafist faith: "It is not permitted (for believers) to abandon that which is dearest to them to infidel teachers."

The report notes that radicalization occurs at younger and younger ages, which is especially troubling. France's domestic intelligence may allow it to monitor the Islamists, and even to foil many of their plots. But France needs to squarely confront the Islamists in their midst and offer decent alternatives. An improved economy and less racism would be an excellent start.