On December 4, 2020, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced on its website that it had offered office space in its Capitol Hill headquarters to the French NGO Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), stating that French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin had “falsely accused” the organization of “spreading Islamist propaganda.”
What are the facts behind this announcement?
In October 2020 Darmanin announced that 51 Islamic organizations would be closed down, including the CCIF, which he described as an “enemy of the French Republic” with links to the Muslim Brotherhood. The justification for the decision was that these organizations have terrorist sympathies, promote religious and identity-driven hatred and are a threat to public order.
The CCIF had been accused of complicity in the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty by an 18-year-old Chechen jihadist. Member of Parliament Aurore Bergé declared that the CCIF “provided legal support to those who lynched the teacher” on social media. The CCIF rejected the allegation, stating that the father who published a video describing Paty as a thug had merely contacted them seeking support but that the CCIF had not taken any action in the matter.
Former CCIF director Marwan Muhammad told a reporter from the Parisien newspaper that he was “astounded” by the government decision and advanced two possible explanations. First, that the government was seeking to attract right-wing voters, and second, due to animosity toward human rights NGOs because they highlighted the inability of the state to defend minorities.
The CCIF was set up in November 2003 by Samy Debah, a former preacher of Tablighi Jaamat, the global Sunni Islamic revivalist movement, after the French parliament banned the hijab in schools. The association claims to be non-denominational and dedicated to combating “all actions or words directed at an individual linked in a real or supposed manner to Islam.”
Although it denies being associated with any political, religious or ideological groups, Marwan Muhammad shared platforms with radical Islamists such as Imam Hassen Bounamcha and Salafist preachers Nader Abou Anas and Rachid Abou Houdeyfa.
Campaigning under the slogan “Islamophobia is not an opinion, it’s a crime,” the group’s principal mission is to file criminal lawsuits against “Islamophobes.” The organization regularly sues journalists who write on the subject of political Islam.
In 2014, the CCIF secured a conviction against the secular website Riposte Laïque. In 2015, Ivan Rioufol, senior journalist at the Figaro newspaper, was acquitted by the Paris Criminal Court in a defamation case brought by the CCIF. However, the acquittal was not necessarily a defeat, since their strategy is to muzzle critics of political Islam using the threat of lengthy and costly lawsuits.
In 2016, the CCIF filed another complaint for incitement to racial hatred against Georges Bensoussan, an expert on 19th and 20th-century European cultural history. Bensoussan was a high-value target due to a book he edited in 2002 called The Lost Territories of the French Republic, a collection of essays that documented the wave of violence, Islamism and antisemitism sweeping through schools in the suburbs of French cities.
Bensoussan was acquitted by the French Supreme Court in 2019. In 2016, the CCIF targeted Laurence Rossignol, Minister for Family, Children and Women’s Rights, for criticizing Muslim women who wear burkas.
The CCIF is regularly accused of using religion for political ends. In 2019 during a nationwide demonstration against “Islamophobia,” Marwan Muhammad shouted “Allahu Akbar!” to a cheering crowd.
Political scientist and former contributor to the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo Fiammetta Venner told the Parisien that the CCIF plays a role in facilitating terror attacks by identifying targets, providing a rationale and a methodology. She added that describing someone or an organization as “Islamophobic” is the equivalent of a death sentence.
Charlie Hebdo received that sentence, and in 2015 was the recipient of an Islamist terror attack that left 12 staff members dead and 11 wounded.
In a written response to a French Senate inquiry in 2019, CCIF director Jawad Bachare denied any link to the Muslim Brotherhood, saying,
“There is no connection. Our detractors accuse us of promoting political Islam, a term that has no substance other than to discredit our work. Our history and activities are well documented and we will continue to highlight the discrimination and violence endured by Muslims in France and take legal action to restore their rights.”
On November 27, the CCIF published a final statement on its website indicating it had made contingency plans to continue its activities outside France, thereby emptying the French government measure of its substance.
“As we announced on October 26, the CCIF has activated a major plan to deploy a large portion of its activities abroad. As a result, the dissolution notice received on November 19 was not applicable, as the CCIF no longer exists as a structure. The various actions that are still being implemented are merely related to the liquidation procedure. The transfer and/or the closing of CCIF’s files will take the necessary time.
“For more than a week now, we have been responding to the various grievances we have been accused of in the notice of dissolution, and we have demonstrated that it was based on unfounded, biased or misleading elements. Worse: we are globally reproached for doing our legal work, applying the law and demanding its application when it is questioned.
“As we notified the Minister of Interior on Thursday, November 26, our Board of Directors pronounced the voluntary dissolution of the CCIF on October 29. The assets of our association have been transferred to partner associations that will take over the fight against Islamophobia at the European level.
“Our communication tools will be closed in less than 24 hours. We will offer our members, partners, supporters and followers the possibility to get in touch with our new partner associations that will take up the fight against Islamophobia.”
This tells us that the battle against political Islam must be conducted at a European and even trans-Atlantic level.
One thing we can conclude is that CAIR’s generous offer would most likely not be given to an organization that was not like-minded.
For more information on CAIR’s history of intimidation and silencing through the use of lawfare, see Clarion’s interview with Deborah Weiss, Esq., the primary researcher and writer of the book The Council on American-Islamic Relations: Its Use of Lawfare and Intimidation, published by Citizens for National Security.