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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Comment Nicholas Sarkozy joue avec l’Islam politique

by Mina Kaci

How Nicolas Sarkozy Plays With Political Islam

Translated Thursday 8 September 2016, by Henry Crapo

The former interior minister had knowingly promoted to the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) certain Salafist groups, at the expense of the Islam of Enlightenment. And today he boasts of being the only one able to drive the Islamist enemy out of the Republic.

Photo P. Verdy, AFP

It’s such a long time since that Monday 7 May, 2012. Nicolas Sarkozy announced his "retirement from political life". The ex-president of the rich then turned to his favorite sport, inspired by Tony Blair, "to make money" with trips to make well-paid speeches carrying him to the four corners of the planet, to those countries that gave birth to integrism. A well-merited return of the elevator for one who, since 2003, still in the Department of the Interior, had created the French Council of the Moslem Faith (CFCM), in such a way as to exclude the representatives of the "Islam of the Enlightenment" and of anti-communitarism, to the profit of Saudi Arabia and the Moslem Brotherhood. From the uprisings in the suburbs in 2005 to the financial crisis of 2008, the man revved up his political motor: social wreckage on all floors, fiscal gifts to the richest, and a will to divide the French people, with his nauseating debate on "national identity" .. The denials by François Hollande in alliance with the climate imposed by the terrorist attacks, make him think that once more he can speculate on the worst scenario, in order to impose his right-wing ideology in the autumn.

Desperate for a crusade, Nicolas Sarkozy has taken his moth-eaten anti-djihadist costume out of mothballs.

A precious costume patched up over the years, he exhibits it as a fetish, since it brought him luck in 2007.

He is now ready to do battle with the "barbarians" who "suffocate" the Republic. These words with their connotations skilfully employed by the former head of state, maintain the myth of a "clash of civilizations", so dear to reactionaries of all stripes.

Thus he boasts of being the only warrior capable of driving the Islamist enemy out of the nation. An enemy he in fact knows better than anyone else, since he knowingly contributed to its emergence while in office as Minister of Interior in the Raffarin government, between 2002 and 2004. An episode that the former head of state would like people to forget.

The year 2003 will be set in stone as the precise date when Nicolas Sarkozy decided to promote political Islam at the expense of the Enlightenment.

While for years, the society as a whole had been reflecting upon the place held by Islam as the second religion of the French Republic, the star of the government of the day arrives as providential man, and creates, with calculated precipitation, the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), which was supposed to represent its believers. He introduced into this fragile body integrists and fundamentalist currents by the use of a method of election widely advantageous to associations advocating Islamist ideology.

Minister Sarkozy played that card in a context already marked by the Islamist and terrorist threat, also marked by a struggle for influence between Algeria and Morocco, and by the pressure of Saudi financing, as the third state to interfere in Islam on French soil. This Wahabite and salafist state, provides the financial means for many Islamic associations, mostly those that proselytize among young people, such as the preachers of Tabligh, an international piety movement that refuses all logic of integration in life. The Saudi Muslim World League, which opened an office in Paris in 1977, in fact finances most of integrist and fundamentalist Islam, whose representatives create the National Federation of Muslims of France (which later split up). For their part, the Muslim Brotherhood benefits from their own funding networks in Saudi Arabia. The Muslim Brotherhood founded the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF).

The CFCM should have been "an educational body, for enlightenment"

It is to these associations that the Minister of Interior granted the privilege to form the CFCM, his way to put the spotlight on this Islamism, in order later to use it in the preidential campaign of 2007. A dangerous maneuver, denounced by supporters of a progressive Islam. "I have not stopped telling Nicolas Sarkozy that if the objective of the CFCM is to create an Islam of France, we should not give so much importance to these currents, these ideologies, that disrupt the religiosity of ordinary Muslims", recalls Soheib Bencheikh. A theologian, he was one of the handful of "qualified persons" to whom the Minister deigned to grant a seat in the CFCM. "He had accepted to introduce into this organization very few enlightened intellectuals who sought, not a body representative of Islam, but an educational body, which would radiate, providing light for a Islamic reading adapted to new realities, to secularism and the privatization of the faith, which would not prevent the self-fulfillment of Muslims in society," says Soheib Bencheich. He then left the CFCM, bitter that "all hopes have simply evaporated; it was all done just for the effect of the announcement".

A similar gesture was made later, when in 2003 Betoule Fekkar-Lambiotte, another qualified person, author of Double Presence (Éditions Seuil), denounced Sarkozy’s ploy: "We have been sacrificed, we the anti-communitarists, on altar of the Republic." Two years later, his successor, Dounia Bouzar, in turn slammed the door of the CFCM, causing distress within the government. "The government has Islamized social and political problems," she told the press to justify her departure. As anthropologist she cited the many questions to which the political authorities demanded an answer from the CFCM, such as "What is the role of Algerians in the history of France, with respect to immigration or integration?" Yet Bouzar Douniare remembers that the mission of this Muslim institution was none other than to organize the cult. Thus, when asked about the issue of the Islamic veil, the CFCM, riddled with Islamists, declared that it was "a religious requirement", "thus closing a debate on an issue that is not settled in Muslim countries," noted Dounia Bouzar at her resignation.

Cynical political maneuvers to raise fears

Once Nicolas Sarkozy had ensured his recognition by the Islamist movements, which were both in the minority and active, in order to exhibit to the whole society this politico-religious Islam, he started his "election tour of France to harvest the fears of the visibility of this so-called Islam of France", condemns Soheib Bencheikh. "I confess to fearing the cynical maneuvers of Nicolas Sarkozy, which are of no interest, however small, for the country," confides the theologian. "Islam is used in the Muslim world for the conquest of power; it is also exploited in France with the intent to scare, not by all, thank you God, but by populists like Sarkozy," he continues.

After the crash of September 2008, amid the global financial crisis, the host of the Elysée could find nothing more urgent than to impose his muddled immigration debate, mixing in Islam, national identity, and "positive" secularism. The young researcher at CNRS, Antoine Jardin [1] emphasizes: "While strategies in response to the economic crisis are struggling to emerge, the search for an essence of national identity revives wounds opened by the suburban crisis" in 2005 . This research, he notes, "is the crucible of a confrontation whose stake is in the virtual demarcation of differences between "them" and "us", with, in the mirror, a legitimation of particularist dynamics."

This confrontation and political calculation are not without consequences in the development of communalism of all kinds, and the risk of disintegration of the national community. This calculation is no stranger to the expansion of Islamist ideology, which is now so evident. Without question, the creation of the CFCM in 2003 by the "Mr. Security" of the government opened wide the doors to the Islamization of society, notably via the Tabligh and the UOIF. These two movements were, at that time, very active in the working class cities, to which the people are relegated, to be forgotten by the political authorities. The dominant influence of the UOIF in these regions has been solidified ever since the first conflict over the Islamic veil in the middle schools of Creil, in 1989. An affair taken up by these Islamists to play as firebrands. From that date until today, with the burkini (contraction of burqa and bikini), the necessity to wrap women’s bodies in Islamic dress is "the workhorse of the breakdown in values", in the words of the Islam expert Gilles Kepel. Each case was instrumentalised, mediated by the UOIF, using the legal-political lever, always with the victimhood argument. Today it is the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) that plays this role.

At the royal palace in Riyad. Saudi Arabia, January 2008

The Islamist ideology is a boon for those wishing to go to war

Gradually, France began to metamorphose, according to Sufi Betoule Fekkar-Lambiotte into "an assembly of communities who thumb their noses against one another", as she says today in despair, breaking her self-imposed silence since leaving the CFCM. She says: "The terror is maintained. By dint of showing us opposed to one another, there is no longer a possibility for harmony. There is a kind of excess, an escalation in words, where one loses sight of what is Islam." Very concerned about this "préchaotique" period she says, "I suffer from the condition in which my country now finds itself."

What credit can we accord today to the candidate for the primary on the right, when he says he wants to "fight against Islamism", or when he proclaims: "The Republic shall require of Islam in France an effort of adaptation and integration "? The question arises legitimately. And the pretendant to the supreme chair should respond, he who has greatly contributed to make it presentable and visible, this political Islam, and to make respectable people of its representatives, worthy to figure among the guests of the Place Beauvau [2] and at the Elysée Palace.

The Islamist ideology, taking advantage of the more or less great naivety of certain policies, has produced terrorist acts that now haunt all citizens, be they men or women, children or old people, French or foreigners, believers or atheists. And as if he were clear of all suspicion, the candidate Nicolas Sarkozy intends to storm the citadel of the radical Islamists. "The war must be conducted by the Republic, everywhere, all the time, with total determination."

We must recognize in this man his perfect knowledge of the French society, and of the relations of political power within it. But this hard worker, who constantly scrutinizes the state of mind of the French, will once again use this knowledge to better exacerbate the conflict. In this sense, he gloats at every show of strength of the Islamists, which exhibit as their flag the niqabs and other burkinis. This is a boon for this war-monger who has launched his soldiers to attack in each conflict likely to reach the attention of the media, and to make it public. In this regime, the "civil war" planned by Daech in France may no longer be the in the domain of fantasy.

The sprawling hydra of Salafism

According to the theologian Soheib Bencheikh, "Islam of France has begun to be washed over by a very dangerous Salafist wave." This wave, said the former member of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, is not "specific" to the French community. It is Sunni Islam [3] worldwide that suffers from an "invasive" Salafism. Which, according to Soheib Bencheikh, seeks to impose itself upon the traditional religiosity. In Salafism, he recalls, the doctrinal aspect is taken from Wahhabism.

[1Terreur dans l’Hexagone (Terror in France), Gilles Kepel, with Antoine Garden. Gallimard, 352 pages, 21 euros.

[2Headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior.

[3Since the death of the Prophet Mohamed, Sunnis and Shiites have not recognized the same successor

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