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France: Access denied | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Whether the French President did so for the mere purpose of making a political gain, or to send a clear message to advocates of extremism and violence to say there is no place for them in his country, his decision is a step towards restarting the battle over the limits of freedom and public responsibility. It has also prompted the Islamists to reconsiders their stances and be aware that what they say on their platforms comes with a price.

The story did not begin in the wake of the crime committed by Mohammed Merah, who murdered seven innocent people, including three children, just because they were Jews, for he also murdered three Muslims just because they served in the French army. Had these crimes been committed in a Muslim country, that state would have certainly inflicted capital punishment upon him. Merah’s crime was an individual case that we must not use to generalize about all Muslims, or even about the most radical among them. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s anger about what happened was something natural, and was not necessarily an electoral play as some Muslim hardliners may like to portray it. Had the crime been committed in Algeria, the birthplace of Merahh, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika would have said more than Sarkozy did, and perhaps the security apparatus there would have done more than the French police did.

But what about the government’s decision to prosecute radicals and target even French clerics of Muslim descent, threatening to expel them from France? What about the Interior Minister’s decision to deny famous Muslim speakers entry into Paris, by announcing that they are no longer welcome?

Some of those who were denied access are even more moderate than the French government. Furthermore, it is a mistake to make a generalization about someone like, for example, Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni, who we regard as a symbol of moderation, based on the practices of other extremist orators. Not all bearded Islamists are necessarily extremists, and some of them have even shouldered the responsibility of confronting advocates of terrorism. They have even risked their lives by facing dangerous organizations like al-Qaeda when fighting such extremist ideologies and this shows a marked development in the mindset of political Islam.

There are also those who have nothing to do with terrorism, but nevertheless provoke hate and racism, such as those who urge their adherers not to greet or deal with non-Muslims, although such a trend is in direct contradiction to 14-century-old Islamic morals and teachings. Those hardliners and racists would be better off staying in their countries. By entering a country like France, these extremists pose a real threat to the social coexistence and peace there, as there are millions of Muslims who live in France and enjoy full rights, and any attempts to corrupt this reality would jeopardize the entire society, especially for the Muslims.

When Sarkozy bans extremist speakers, he is first and foremost protecting the Muslims of his country against the influence of radical ideologies. The terrorist act committed by the young Mohammed Merah is nothing more than an example of gross intellectual corruption that ended with the horrible massacre he committed, not only in his name, but also in the name of Islam, as evidenced by the video recordings he distributed to boast of his killings. The crimes of extremists committed in the name of Islam inflict serious harm on the peaceful majority of French Muslims, and further consolidate the attitudes of racist hardliners on the other side of French society.

Despite the reoccurrence of such horrific incidents and their association with advocates of extremist ideologies, it is sorrowful that some people still attempt to defend the criminal and the crime or disregard it as a conspiracy. This continues to happen although we have a track record of crimes committed by youths like Merah in our Muslim states. It is also sorrowful that intellectuals remain silent and fail to champion their interpretation Islam by rejecting terrorists and hardline orators. In order to condemn French racists we must also take a stand against our extremists, whether they have millions of fans or are simply deluded youths. Two weeks ago, a British court sentenced a British youth to one and a half months imprisonment because he posted racist remarks on Twitter about a black British footballer. Imagine if a judge decided to prosecute those who slander others on Twitter or Facebook just because they are non-Muslims, Shiites or Sunnis!

Societies are now further threatened because of popular tools of communication being exploited by extremist groups that benefit from easy internet access and abuse freedom laws to incite others.