By Leslie Shaw
On September 28, 2016, French TV channel M6 kicked off its new series Taboo Dossier with a documentary by investigative reporter Bernard de la Villardière titled Islam in France: the Failure of the Republic.
The two-hour piece aimed to examine the compatibility of Islam with the values of the French Republic and its place in French society.
During the investigation, Villardière and his team discovered that several strains of Islam — moderate, fundamentalist and jihadist — are in fierce competition on French soil.
These strains are financed, controlled and manipulated by foreign powers. Those who preach in mosques throughout France are the mouthpieces of Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco and Turkey. They found that extremist imams are gaining ground at the expense of moderate Muslims, who sometimes receive death threats.
Faced with this lack of governance, a powerful federation is seeking to exercise control over all Muslims. The UOIF (Union of Islamic Organizations in France) is the French subsidiary of the Muslim Brotherhood, a secret society whose objective is to cut off the Muslim community from the rest of society, to encroach on the public sphere in the name of freedom of expression and gradually set up sharia law in France.
The UOIF has its own mosques and schools. It organizes meetings which attract hundreds of thousands of people to listen to foreign preachers who are often homophobic, anti-Semite and advocate the stoning of women.
Former members of the Muslim Brotherhood agreed to be interviewed for the documentary to reveal the hidden strategies of the movement that seeks to train the Islamic elites of the future.
In public hospitals, women are increasingly refusing to be treated by male doctors. Hospital personnel violate regulations. Veils and long beards are appearing in the consulting rooms. In some areas of France, local elected officials are capitulating to the sirens of community isolationism.
They breach secular legislation in order to get votes. Extremist funding of mosques and religious schools, forbidden by law, is emboldening and fueling the most radical strains of Islam.
Garments such as the jibab, chador, niqab and hijab that cover up Muslim women are leading to bitter divisions among French people. A simple scarf can provoke hostility. Villardière met with Muslim women who suffer from this controversy. They claim the right to manifest their religious affiliation but also reject Salafist extremism.
The documentary sought to provide a platform for Muslims who denounce the excesses that are preventing what is termed as a true French Islam, a questionable concept given that many French Muslims support Islamism — i.e. Islam not just as a religion but a social and political system in which the state is intended to be inseparable from religious rule. Sharia by its nature is not designed to coexist with or be subordinate to other legal systems.
While making the documentary, the team went to Sevran, located in the notorious Seine-Saint-Denis district north of Paris, to interview Dhaou Meskine, the owner of a grocery store that was converted into a clandestine radical mosque by his tenants.
During the interview, a gang described as “Salafists and drug dealers” violently attacked the crew, forcing them to abandon the shoot and leave the area. Stéphane Gatignon, mayor of Sevran, blamed Villardière for the incident and accused him of provocation and manipulation.
In March 2016, the parents of a local 23-year old who had been killed fighting in Syria accused the mayor of turning a blind eye to Islamic State recruitment of jihadists in Seine-Saint-Denis.
The documentary provoked a storm of controversy, in particular the inclusion of a recording of a sermon by Imam Mohamed Khattabi, in which he justified sexual relations with girls as young as eight. Khattabi was placed under house arrest for three months after the November 2015 attacks in Paris.
Villardière responded to criticism of the documentary by saying he wanted to highlight the hijacking of Islam by Salafism and that accusations of racism and Islamophobia by Salafists were the best means of disqualifying critics of that ideology.
Leslie Shaw is an Associate Professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and President of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).