On Wednesday, January 29, only a few weeks after the Charlie Hebdo attack, the French government launched a campaign called “Stop Jihadism.” Aimed at preventing “violent radicalism,” the new initiative includes a “hotline” for friends and family who are concerned their loved ones may be going “radical,” and a video about the scourge of violent extremism that finishes with an ominous threat to prospective terrorists: “You will end alone and far”
Young people, especially young religious people, are at the heart of the French government’s efforts to win the “war on extremism” (the latest version of the “war on terror”).
This includes “mobilizing” French schools for the “values of the Republic”. On January 22, 2015, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research, announced eleven measures to inculcate “French values” in the country’s youth. These include:
Transmission of republican values, secularism, citizenship and culture of commitment, the fight against inequality and social diversity, mobilization of Higher Education and Research at the center of these measures. Mobilising for the values of the Republic is that of the whole school, including agricultural education and private education under contract.*
And then there’s the infographic, created as part of the Stop Jihadism campaign, which has a list of telltale “signs” someone is becoming radicalized and disproportionately targets religious French youth.
Some of these so-called behavioral tells, like eating halal, are obvious markers of religiosity. In the world of reasonable people, though, becoming religious is not the same as becoming “radicalized.”
Other “signs” include “quitting sports,” terminating old friendships, and withdrawing from family, which overlap with indicators of teenage depression, which similarly include “[l]oss of interest in sports or activities they used to enjoy, withdrawal from friends and family, pervasive trouble in relationships.” The psychology website, PsychCentral, explains, however, that “these symptoms are also indicative of normal teenage behavior. That’s why teenage depression can only be diagnosed by a trained health or mental health professional — like a child psychologist or psychiatrist.”
Perhaps the French government’s anti-jihadism efforts would reap more benefits if it did not present a black and white narrative that equates the behavior of “normal” angsty teenagers and religious individuals with radicalization, and relied on social services tools, instead of a security-focused approach, to deal with the so-called problem of “radicalization.”
But, it is doing none of these things, either in words or in practice.
It is both equally absurd and unsurprising, then, that French authorities recently detained an eight-year old French, Muslim child for the crime of speaking in support of the Charlie Hebdo attackers. On January 28, 2015, eight-year old “Ahmed” was summoned and appeared before police in the city of Nice for the crime of being a “terrorism apologist.” The French anti-Islamophobia organization, Islamophobie, published a press release describing the situation:
On January 8, 2015, Ahmed was asked by his teacher if he “was Charlie.” Being Muslim and only 8 years old, he said he was against Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet and naively replied that he was with the terrorists.
Angered by this response, his teacher sent him to the school director, who was in the classroom next door, and who asked him three times in front of the whole classroom, “Are you Charlie.”? . . . The director subsequently filed a police complaint against the child for being a terrorism apologist
One wonders what sort of threat the French government is fighting, if these are the strategies and results of that battle.
*All English quotations from French sources have been translated by Muftah staff
UPDATE 1/29/15: A full, English version of the Islamophobie press release, translated by the organization, is available below:
On Wednesday, January, 28th, in Nice, Ahmed, an 8 year old boy and his father, were summoned by the Nice St Augustin’s Police. The 8 year old was accused of condoning terrorism as he opposed Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
On January 8th, Ahmed, a 3rd grade child, is at school. His teacher asks him if “he is Charlie”. The 8 year old boy, who is Muslim, explains that he refuses Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet, and naively says that is his on the terrorists’ side.
Upset, the teacher sends him to the School Principal who asks him three times in front of the rest of the class: Are you Charlie?
The child reported that he has been psychologically abused and described humiliations on the part of some teachers. Suffering from diabetes, he says that, following the incident, teachers took his insulin from him.
That’s the very same School Principal who lodged a complaint against the child, accusing him of condoning terrorism, and against his father for intruding into the school, as since the accident, he escorted his distressed child in the morning and at lunch in order to reassure him.
The child and his father were heard during almost two hours by police officers, about the Ahmed’s comments. When they asked him “Do you know what terrorism is? he answered “I don’t know”.
Ahmed’s parents made a considerable teaching work to their child to enable him to better understand the events. But what happened at school deeply traumatized him. He now suffers from sleep and behavioural disorders.
Being heard by the police has been an additional trauma for him. This event shows the mass hysteria we live into since January.
The CCIF has been following this case from the start, along with the family’s lawyer. We continue to support Ahmed and his family.
CCIF will also alert the public authorities to get to the bottom of this issue and clarify the responsibilities of the teachers and police officers handling the case