Gavin Mortimer

Britain must learn from France’s approach to jihadis

Britain must learn from France's approach to jihadis
Text settings

Gavin Williamson, Britain's defence secretary, and Florence Parly, minister of the French armed forces, share the same opinion, that it would be in their countries' best interests if their jihadists never set foot on their soil again. The Defence Secretary has said of two captured members of the Isis gang dubbed 'The Beatles': 'I don’t think they should ever set foot in this country again'; while France's armed forces minister said recently that her country's jihadists 'have shown no mercy so I don't see why we should show them any'.

Few in France disagree with Parly's comments, except the jihadists themselves, who have suddenly become all contrite after years of nothing but contempt for their country. One such example is Émilie König, a 33-year convert from Brittany, an alleged Isis recruiter, who also reportedly called on jihadists to kill the wives of French soldiers. Since she fell into the hands of the Kurds, König has reassessed her life. She would like to come back, her mother told a local newspaper earlier last month: 'She has asked for pardon from her family, her friends, her country'.

No pardon has been forthcoming, not for her or the other 100 French jihadists who have been captured in recent weeks. The position of the French government is that König and her fellow jihadists will be tried where they were caught, whether that is Iraq or in Kurdish-controlled Syria. In an interview in January, the country's justice minister, Nicole Belloubet, said that provided the accused had access to a lawyer and necessary consular services she saw no reason why Syrian Kurdistan couldn't 'eventually proceed to trials'.

In other words, France trusts the Kurds to oversee a fair trial, which is more than many in Britain do – particularly those on the left, who have appeared to have come over all colonial in their view of Middle Eastern justice systems. 'They should be returned to their country of origin, where their case should be considered in a normal way with British rights, British duties, British obligations and British responsibilities', said Lord Carlile, the liberal peer, in an interview with the Guardian that sounded very early 20th Century.

Repatriating jihadists is unwise for two reasons, both of which have influenced France's position. The French have given up on deradicalisation because they know it doesn't work. Once an Islamist, always an Islamist, as the world witnessed last week when Salah Abdeslam appeared in a Belgian court. Two years after he was caught following a shootout with Brussels police, the only living suspect from the Paris attack of November 2015 that killed 130 people was defiantly unrepentant. He first refused to stand for the judge and then declined to answer any questions, declaring that the trial was nothing more than an anti-Muslim charade and he answered only to Allah. It was just the sort of propaganda nonsense the French feared, similar to the circus that unfolded last October when Abdelkader Merah stood trial for aiding and abetting his brother, Mohamed, who shot dead seven people in 2012. Abdel used his time in court to showcase his Salafist credentials, calmly explaining that: 'I recognise no laws created by man, only those of the creator, who is Allah'. Before his court appearance, Merah had spent five years in prison proselytising his beliefs to other inmates.

That's another reason France has no wish to welcome back hundreds of Islamists: their prisons are already bursting at the seams with jihadists – several of whom launched a string of vicious attacks on prison wardens last month – and the last thing they want is to incarcerate a battalion of battle-hardened Isis warriors. Such details are lost on the likes of Lord Carlile, who in his interview with the Guardian also declared that 'if people are tried properly, as they would be in the British courts, it would show that the UK is taking a very serious approach to deradicalisation'.

Carlile's words are symptomatic of the naivety exhibited by many within the British establishment when it comes to radical Islam: they just don't get it. They have no understanding of taqiyya, a word one hears often in France and which, according to François Molins, the country's top counter-terrorism prosecutor, is the 'Islamic technique of dissimulation' whereby they lie to their enemies while waging jihad. In other words, don't believe anything a captured jihadist says. They'll grovel, they'll beg, they'll plead for forgiveness, but it means nothing.

Britain has been taken in by the Islamists for the best part of two decades, since the mid 1990s, when the capital was christened Londonistan by the French intelligence services on account of all the extremists who were allowed to set up home in the city. In an article last week with Le Figaro, the French writer and philosopher Pascal Bruckner said 'the blindness of the Anglo-Saxons regarding political Islam is frightening'. One sees examples of this blindness everywhere, from the acceptance of Sharia courts to the toleration of female genital mutilation to the government's failure last month to support a primary school's attempt to ban young girls wearing the hijab. After last summer's string of Islamist terror attacks, Theresa May said that the time had come to have 'embarrassing conversations' about Islam's place in Britain. But this just hasn't happened.

In contrast, Emmanuel Macron is about to embark on a root-and-branch reform of Islam in France, with the support and consultation of the majority of the country's six million Muslims. The aim, according to a presidential source, is 'to reduce the influence of Arab countries, which are preventing French Islam from entering into modernity'. All Imams will be required to pass courses on secularism, civil liberties and theology, and it's also expected that a chief Imam will be appointed as the sole religious authority for French Muslims. No one in France is naive enough to believe this will eradicate the scourge of extremism but, coupled with the economic and educational reforms already underway, it's a positive step towards harmonising Islam with 21st-century Republican values.

Britain's approach, on the other hand, is one of confusion, cowardice and of the continuation of a failed multiculturalism that, as Dame Louise Casey outlined in her 2016 report, has created 'worrying levels' of segregation. At the root of the problem is successive governments' superficial knowledge of political Islam and their insistence on taking advice from the wrong sort of people. The majority of the mainstream media don't help, either, lacking the insight and honesty to confront the growing problem. Instead they try and make light of the danger, endowing our Islamists with childish nicknames like Captain Hook, Jihadi John, the White Widow and The Beatles. But if Britain doesn't start getting a grip on this problem, the joke may eventually be on us.