This week, busloads of people traveled the 400 miles from Bordeaux to Paris.
They went to the French capital to rally in support of their local mosque, the fate of which is being decided by the country’s supreme administrative court, the Conseil d’État, which held a hearing on the matter on Wednesday.Over the last year, the administration of President Emmanuel Macron has been ordering the closure of mosques and the firing of imams across the country – all based on such vague accusations as “separatism” and “inciting hatred” against France and Israel.
In reality, these collective punishments are a response to how community leaders have expressed opinions the French government does not like. It’s also a patent effort by Macron, who is up for re-election this month, to win votes from racists.
As part of his ongoing anti-Muslim crackdown, Macron’s interior ministry in March ordered the closure for six months of the Farouk mosque in Pessac, a Bordeaux suburb.The ministry accused the mosque’s leaders of promoting “radical Islam” and a “salafist ideology” and circulating “hateful publications about Israel.”
The government also accused the mosque of “giving support to terrorist organizations.”
Sefen Guez Guez, a civil rights lawyer who represents the mosque, noted that the government had accused the mosque of “justifying terrorism” – a crime in France – even though no one had been arrested on such charges.
He said the government was using “administrative sanctions” because it did not have any evidence of a crime.In addition to targeting Muslim communities, the staunchly pro-Israel Macron has used similar repression against supporters of Palestinian rights.
In February, he ordered the dissolution of two French Palestine solidarity groups.
Muslims and other supporters of civil rights across France have been rallying against Macron’s iron-fist repression.The Farouk mosque in Pessac challenged the Macron administration in court.
In late March, the administrative court in Bordeaux overturned the closure decision, calling it disproportionate and “a grave and manifestly illegal violation of the freedom of religion.”“The unjust order issued by the administration has been suspended,” Guez Guez stated following the victory.
“The Muslims of Pessac will be able to continue to gather in dignity as the holy month of Ramadan approaches.”
But the Macron administration appealed the Bordeaux court’s ruling to the Conseil d’État.
Following the hearing in Paris on Wednesday, Guez Guez expressed hope that the Conseil d’État would uphold the Bordeaux decision. A ruling is expected next week.
Punished for criticizing Israel
The order to close the mosque in Pessac is not based on any alleged “terrorist” act but solely on speech the Macron government does not like.
Earlier this week Guez Guez posted on social media excerpts from the interior ministry order closing the mosque. They include screenshots of social media posts by the mosque’s president Abdourahmane Ridouane.The government’s justifications for closing the mosque included:
On 27 June 2018, Ridouane posted on Facebook a Change.org petition calling for the release of Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss Muslim academic. Ramadan was jailed at the time pending trial on rape charges that some saw as politically motivated. Ramadan denies the allegations and has yet to be tried or convicted on any of the allegations.
On 13 August 2021, Ridouane posted on Facebook a video from the Al Jazeera network about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza. According to the interior ministry, he also urged his followers to invoke “the aid and support of God for our martyred brothers and sisters in the Gaza concentration camp, the most emblematic frontier of the war waged against Muslims by the West and their Trojan Horse, the Zionist entity Israel, created on the lands of Palestine occupied since 1948.” According to French authorities, “these conspiratorial words can be interpreted as a call for hatred of the West and of Israel.”
On 15 January 2017, Ridouane posted on Facebook an announcement from CRIF, France’s top Jewish communal body and Israel lobby group, calling for a solidarity rally with Israel in front of the Israeli embassy in Paris. According to the government, Ridouane deplored CRIF’s “blind solidarity with Israel’s Zionist policies” and stated that such uncritical support “imports and instrumentalizes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into French political debates in order to stigmatize Muslims in the name of an illusory solidarity between France and Israel in the struggle against terrorism.” These words, the Macron interior ministry asserts, “have a conspiratorial tone and constitute a call for hatred against Israel and its real or supposed supporters.”
The interior ministry also cited a Facebook post on the mosque’s page quoting Nelson Mandela’s famous statement that “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” According to the interior ministry, “These words apply the frequent parallel claimed by anti-Zionists between the South African apartheid regime and the situation of the Palestinians.”
The French government also cited social media posts by Ridouane criticizing its anti-Muslim policies.
On 29 September 2021, for instance, Ridouane posted a message on Facebook criticizing the Conseil d’État’s ruling upholding the government’s dissolution of CCIF, a civil rights group that was dedicated to fighting bigotry against Muslims. Ridouane called the decision “a failure of the rule of law.”
“This publication implicitly testifies to Ridouane’s adhesion to the ideas of the CCIF,” the interior ministry claimed.
There is indeed evidence of extremism in these accusations, but it is the extremism and intolerance of the French government, not of Ridouane or the mosque in Pessac.
Amnesty International, for instance, called the closure of CCIF “a shocking move from the French government,” and warned that it could have “a chilling effect on all people and organizations engaged in combating racism and discrimination in France.”
So far, the French government has not moved to close down Amnesty International – although Macron has rejected the human rights’ group’s finding earlier this year that Israel perpetrates the crime against humanity of apartheid against the Palestinian people.
This extreme repression is being done in a country which markets itself as a champion of free speech.
Macron has defended and supported the dissemination of hateful anti-Muslim propaganda in the form of cartoons denigrating the Prophet Muhammad, in the name of “liberty” and “enlightenment” and “freedom of the press.”
Meanwhile, his government recently issued a formal protest to Russia because Moscow’s embassy in Paris tweeted out a now-deleted caricature criticizing European policies. So much for “freedom of expression.”
Attacking Muslims to win votes
Macron is facing far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the country’s presidential run-off election on 24 April.
The president scored 27 percent in the first round last Sunday, against 23 percent for Le Pen. Left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon came a close third with 22 percent – but that was not enough to make it to the second round.
Macron’s interior minister Gérard Darmanin makes little secret that the government’s anti-Muslim repression is aimed at winning votes.In a February TV debate, Darmanin attacked Le Pen for being “soft” on Islam and of “going too far in your strategy of de-demonization.”
Darmanin also accused Le Pen’s National Rally party – formerly the National Front – of saying “Islam is not a problem.”
Le Pen, looking surprised at being attacked from the right, responded: “I confirm that you don’t hear me attacking Islam, which is a religion like any other, and for which – because I am profoundly attached to our French values – I hope to protect the complete freedom to organize and the complete freedom to worship.”
There is every reason to doubt Le Pen’s sincerity. Her apparent moderation is nothing more than a tactic to appeal beyond her traditional far-right base, which she must do if she has any chance of defeating Macron.
But given its record, there is absolutely no reason to doubt the Macron administration’s sincerity when it comes to its anti-Muslim policies.
The conventional wisdom now is that France’s mainstream political forces must unite, and even those on the left must hold their noses and vote for Macron, in order to stop the far-right.
The reality, however, is that no matter who gets more votes on 24 April, and no matter how the Conseil d’État rules in the Pessac mosque case, the far right already rules France.