Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, anthropologist, and researcher of Islamic norms in a secular context, is author of Le Frérisme et ses réseaux, l'enquête (The Brotherhood and Its Networks, a Survey). In the book, she investigates the ideology, strategy, and doctrine of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its networks in Europe. Bergeaud-Blackler spoke to a July 3rd Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the Muslim-led riots currently raging across France. The following is a summary of her comments:
After police at a traffic stop shot and killed Nahel Merzouk, a seventeen-year-old North African, riots erupted across France when the video of the incident was streamed on social media. Leftist French groups denounced the police for committing a "political assassination" because of Merzouk's race—a narrative echoing the riots in the U.S. following George Floyd's death during an encounter with police. That the two cases "have little in common" was disregarded in the heat of the French rioters' demand for justice. Unlike George Floyd, Merzouk was driving a car not his own and without a license, and he had recklessly endangered lives before the police stopped him. Although the policeman who allegedly pulled the trigger was jailed, reactions to the video quickly spread out of control. Both the Floyd and Merzouk cases were presented by leftist groups as examples of "political assassination by a police force that kills racialized and underprivileged young people."
A leftist party in parliament that had garnered considerable support from the banlieues, the French suburbs of Paris that are heavily populated by Muslim minorities, did nothing to calm the unrest, and another leftist group called for revenge. These two groups coalesced with Muslims angered over purported police harassment of largely Muslim areas plagued by gang activity, drug trafficking, and violence. The riots served as both an advantage and disadvantage for the Islamists, in particular the MB, which seeks to turn the ummah (Muslim nation) into a "cultural, economic, and political force." The advantage is that the riots are proof of the failure of Muslims to assimilate into the secular culture of France, but the disadvantage is that the MB wants the next generation of Muslim youth to "form an elite rather than to be 'proletarianized.'"
The Strategy for Islamic Action Outside the Islamic World, a document published in Qatar in 2000 and signed by the Islamic World Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ICESCO), was inspired by the French branch of the MB. The document outlines measures to be taken regarding Muslim education in a non-Muslim society. The MB eschews assimilation, prioritizes "Islamic ethics" in lieu of the West's secular values, and instructs Muslims to act in accordance with Sharia based on "ordering the good and prohibiting the evil."
Since the promotion of secularism in national education is seen by most French as a way of preserving national unity and avoiding religious strife, the MB's strategy is rendered "inadmissible" in France. The French prefer religious practice to be exercised in the private sphere, with worn symbols permitted, provided they do not infringe on public security. The MB, however, demands tolerance for their intolerance of the French ideal of assimilating young Muslims for the public good. This is the method used to subvert the principle of tolerance.
Bergeaud-Blackler describes the MB method as Frerisme—"Brotherism." This doctrine, which is based on the teachings of the MB's founder, Hassan al-Banna, and the Hindu-Pakistani Abdul A'la Maududi, was modernized by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Brotherism is a transnational movement whose ultimate objective is global domination and whose initial step is making non-Muslim countries "Sharia compatible." The concept is a "system of action" that marshals the various theological and legal components and schools of Sunni Islam, i.e., Wahhabi, jihadi, Sufi, and liberal, and moves from a middle position to "fulfill the ultimate prophecy of the establishment of the caliphate on Earth."
The grandiose nature of the MB's mission is not farfetched when considering its infiltration of society in public institutions, education, universities, health, justice, police, and private enterprises, where the MB exerts influence in a methodical and concealed manner. Its aim is to "modify their DNA to make them Sharia compatible" by advancing the MB's directive within the "framework of democratic laws." Influence is exerted through cultural and economic pathways because the political means are not currently within its control.
The MB exercises influence over mosques where sermons introduce a new "formula" which implores Muslim women to wear the hijab (veil), appeals to all Muslims to eat halal food, and ascribes to Sharia practices a source of Islamic pride. Commenting on the riots, a recent video by a French imam (preacher) endorsed the role of the mosque to function as mediators. The imam said that promoting Islamic cultural and religious associations will prevent violence by young Muslims.
Having researched the issue for three decades, Bergeaud-Blackler does not consider Islam itself to be irretrievably fundamentalist. It was possible to be a Muslim by self-definition without having to wear the hijab or eat halal. It was even acceptable for Muslims to proclaim they were no longer Muslim. That is no longer the case today because a Muslim would have to hide such a sentiment or risk inviting "trouble."
Today, sixty-five percent of young French Muslims consider Sharia law more important than civil law. Islamists are increasing pressure on schoolteachers to reintroduce the hijab, prohibited since 2004. Nearly sixty percent of secondary schoolteachers censor themselves, purging sections of their lesson plans deemed incompatible with Sharia law. The MB has infiltrated Europe's network of anti-racist non-governmental organizations (NGO's) and is promoting "positive discrimination" in these groups. This concept stipulates that Muslims deserve special rights and pushes an unproven narrative that Western European democracy seeks to "dehumanize" Muslims.
Strangely, the European Union (EU) rejects MB fundamentalism yet continues to further the idea that the state is a purveyor of Islamophobia despite the lack of evidence to support it. There are between eight and ten million Muslims among the overall French population of sixty-eight million. Many Muslims have assimilated in France, and a growing prosperous middle class is represented in all sectors of public institutions, private enterprise, and political parties.
The existence of anti-Muslim racism, especially during the 1970s, stemmed from historical reasons when there were tensions between France and Algeria, but not to religious conflict. The concept of Islamophobia started to gain traction on social media in the mid-2000's. The MB relies upon the fallacy of "structural" Islamophobia as "the main instrument for the propagation of Brotherism."
Containing the MB's influence in France's Muslim community is unrealistic because the MB has "infused" French institutions with the Brotherism ideology while staying within the law and exploiting the West's freedom of expression. The way to repel the MB's goal of making secular French society Sharia compatible is to unambiguously identify the MB's modus operandi—destroying democracy by incrementally introducing an incompatible Islamic theocracy. The MB's ideological war to transform France's secular society into one that is Sharia compatible can be understood with what Bergeaud-Blackler dubbed the V.I.P.—a vision, an identity, and a plan.
This ideological war can only be fought with a clear-eyed understanding and acceptance in the secular mind that the MB will not be deterred because it takes the long view. The Islamists persist in their efforts to remove the law against the hijab in schools and have tried to pass a law allowing it in sports, even though seventy-seven percent of the French people do not support it. If the West does not find the motivation and passion to defend secularism and democratic values, the Islamists will try "again, again, again."
The riots are a wake-up call—a warning that unrest is not just caused by social and economic problems. Rather, it is a religious problem that secular people ignore for fear of conflating Islam with Islamism. The solution lies in recognizing the difference between the two and taking a firm stand against the latter. The French mentality is slowly changing because French society has reached a tipping point. Accordingly, the secularists reject being tarred as "extreme right or fascist or Nazi" for saying "no" to Islamism and the MB project of a Sharia-compliant France. The solution is for all political parties to work together as democrats against theocracy.
(NB: An English translation of Bergeaud-Blackler's book is unavailable at this time.)
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.