European nations urged to follow Emmanuel Macron's tough stance on extremism

Terrorist experts commend the rooting out of Muslim Brotherhood cells in France

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a meeting with labour union representatives and at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on June 24, 2020. / AFP / POOL / Ludovic MARIN
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The exposure of Muslim Brotherhood networks in France led to President Emanuel Macron’s tougher stance on extremism, experts said, as they urged other nations to follow suit.

In an online seminar on France’s steps to tackle Islamist extremism hosted by think tank the Henry Jackson Society, experts called for the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar’s financing in foreign states to be examined.

France launched a crackdown on radical groups after the murder of teacher Samuel Paty who had shown students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson on free speech, and a subsequent attack in Nice’s largest church that killed three people.

This month, the French government unveiled draft legislation aimed at better arming France against radicalism, a project promoted by Mr Macron to root out what he calls separatists undermining the nation.

The bill targets home schools, mosques or associations that circulate an ideology running counter to French values, which authorities are calling the “Islamist hydra” that has the potential to cultivate violence among extremists.

Simone Rodan-Benazquen, director of the American Jewish Committee in Europe, said that other nations could learn from France and that foreign influence from countries such as Qatar needs to be addressed.

“When you have foreign countries like Qatar financing imams and mosques or propaganda via Al Jazeera, these are obvious influences on European Muslims,” she said. “It is an issue that needs to be addressed.”

Her comments were reiterated by terrorism expert Liam Duffy, of the Counter Extremism Project, who said the key to the French approach can be traced back to the exposure of Muslim Brotherhood networks in the country.

He said the publication of a book by French journalists Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot exposing the Qatari funding of Muslim Brotherhood’s affiliated organisations caused a “national storm” in France.

“What that did, as well as creating a national discussion ... was to raise the question of sovereignty and the foreign states supporting Islamists in Europe,” he said.

He warned other nations considering tougher measures to take note of the backlash France faced but said issues need to be addressed now. “The controversy France has been met with does not match up to the reality of the document we are talking about,” he said.

"I think every western country should be really nervous about the resistance and the backlash France has faced because it shows if you do try to take things beyond the platitudes, to protect from Islamist subversion ... you are going to face a hell of a lot of opposition.

“We need to look at France’s example of having a much more realistic and open discussion, which is happening in the mainstream, about this problem because there will be more terror attacks and deaths and we should be having these conversations now.”

Terrorism expert Tommaso Virgili said Mr Macron’s “reactive measures” are not enough and cited the case of the ISIS terrorist behind the recent Vienna attack who was known to authorities.

“Our security services cannot control all potential threats,” he said. “The Austrian terrorist had been under surveillance for a year. These measures have been proved to be insufficient.”

He urged countries to act now before nations become “breeding grounds” for terrorists.

Last month, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said authorities were targeting “all associations whose complicity with radical Islamism has been established”.

It led to France closing the Collective Against Islamophobia in France charity, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as a number of mosques linked to radicalisation.