French court backs closure of Muslim NGO for ‘inciting hatred’

France's highest administrative court on Wednesday rejected appeals against the dissolution of a Muslim NGO and the six-month closing down of a mosque ordered by the government after the beheading of a teacher by an Islamist radical.

French court backs closure of Muslim NGO for 'inciting hatred'
A view of the Grand Mosque de Pantin, shut for six months. Photo: AFP

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to crack down on radical Islamist activity in France following the October 16th murder of teacher Samuel Paty who had showed his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The Council of State ruled that the dissolution of the BarakaCity NGO as ordered by the government could be justified on account of comments “inciting discrimination, violence and hatred” by the group's head, it said in a statement.

The government had ordered the dissolution of BarakaCity in late October, accusing it of links to “the radical Islamist movement” and “justifying terrorist acts”.

It said that the group had published violent and discriminatory comments on its own social media accounts and through that of its founder and leader Idriss Sihamedi.

But the group, which insists it has a strictly humanitarian mission to help millions of people around the world, denied the charges and appealed the decision.

In a separate ruling, the court also confirmed the closure for six months of the mosque in Pantin, to the north of Paris, following an appeal against the government's ruling by the local Muslim association.

The court said that the closure was justified as the comments made by the mosque's officials and the ideas it discussed were a “provocation” that could lead to acts of violence.

It has notably been accused of sharing a video posted by the father of a pupil at Paty's school that publicly attacked the teacher for showing the cartoons in class.

An imam who was on duty at the time had received training in a fundamentalist institute in Yemen and has since left the mosque.

The mosque's lawyers William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth expressed dismay at the ruling saying that it was prepared to give guarantees to allow its rapid reopening.

Macron's approach has won praise from supporters inside France who say he is showing the courage to confront radical Islamist activity that has been ignored for too long.

But critics, including some in English-language media, have accused the president of going too far and adopting a heavy-handed approach towards France's largest religious minority.

Member comments

  1. well done France & Macron the rest of the world need to follow your fair and reasoned resistance to violence in the name of any religion

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‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.