Earlier this month, CAGE, an Islamist organization based in London, held an event in Paris to launch its latest report on the "state-sponsored persecution of Muslims in France."
The evidence indicates the report is part of a well-coordinated campaign to discredit the French government's anti-Islamist policies. CAGE had yet to publicize the report on social media when the Middle East Eye, a Qatari mouthpiece, published a piece in French summarizing its main points. Other publications including the British Islamist site 5 Pillars as well as the Ankara-controlled Anadolu Agency and TRT also rushed to quote CAGE's claims about France persecuting Muslims.
CAGE stated the goal of its report was to "[give] individuals and organizations, across the European continent and beyond, the tools to understand and intervene in a mass persecution in the making, and offer much-needed solidarity to Muslims in France."
But CAGE is less inspired by concerns for human rights than it is by its Islamist ideology that invariably prompts it to oppose any and all anti-Islamist efforts, whether in the UK or in France.
Moazzam Begg, an ex-jihadi who was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, is listed as the outreach director of CAGE, which was founded in 2003. During his time at Guantanamo Bay, Begg "signed a confession that admitted that he was a jihadist recruiter, that he attended three al Qaeda terrorist-training camps in Afghanistan, and that he was armed and prepared to fight for the Taliban and al Qaeda against the U.S." Begg's claim that his confession was coerced has been rejected by four U.S. government inquiries.
CAGE's director of research, Asim Qureshi, has affirmed that "it is incumbent upon all of us [Muslims] to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the west." Qureshi has also supported the death penalty for adulterers.
Extremism appears to be a prerequisite for CAGE employees. The NGO's general director, Mohammed Rabbani, trained Muslims for the South Asian Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami. He told his young recruits that their goal was to mobilize "believers into an organized force for change who will carry out dawah [preaching], hisbah [enforcement of Islamic law] and jihad."
CAGE spends much of its time lobbying for Muslims who have been charged with terrorism.
It supported Anwar Al-Awlaki, the famous American-born cleric who later became the head of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. When Al-Awlaki was arrested in 2006 by the Yemeni authorities who accused him of being involved in an Al-Qaeda plot to kidnap a U.S. official, CAGE immediately started campaigning in an effort to obtain his release. CAGE officials described him as a "Muslim scholar" who was "very respected in Islamic circles. Once Al-Awlaki was freed, his first public appearance consisted of an interview with Begg.
CAGE invited Al-Awlaki to two of its fundraising dinners.
CAGE has also defended Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a jihadi with ties to senior Al-Qaeda leadership, and Mohammed Emwazi, better known as Jihadi John, one of the most notorious executioners of the Islamic state. After Jihadi John's real identity was revealed, Qureshi praised him as a "beautiful young man" and blamed his decision to join ISIS on alleged harassment by the British security services.
The introduction to CAGE's recent report was written by French academic François Burgat who is well known for his Islamist sympathies. In this preface, Burgat claimed that there is an "Islamophobic upsurge plowing through French society today" and that the "propensity to stigmatize" Muslims is rooted in French colonial history. In his conclusion, he insisted that there is "a very legitimate concern about the health of the [French] political body and its institutions."
Rayan Freschi, the author of the report and a CAGE employee, is less subtle and attacks the French state which he accused of having "embarked on a systematic program to silence Muslim and Islam-centered civic activism, as well as to humiliate Muslims in France."
He also condemns France for not acknowledging the "legal and political existence of minorities on its soil." Indeed, France's refusal to legally recognize minorities makes it more difficult for Islamists to expand their influence by convincing lawmakers to see them as representatives of the community, as is the case in the U.S.
Freschi also denounces the war on terror that, according to him, "framed Islamic beliefs and Muslims who refused the political status quo as enemies to be vigorously opposed." As for "Islamism", "radicalization", and "extremism", Freschi describes these terms as "linguistic diversion attempts" that are used as a "cloak for the fact that when operationalized in policy, they effectively target widespread, normative Muslim beliefs."
That a French Senate committee established a clear distinction between Islamists and Muslims is not very convenient for CAGE. And so, Freschi denounces the committee for making this distinction and accuses them of promoting a narrative in which Muslims are the "'good', politically submissive and silenced version of the 'bad' [Islamists]."
If CAGE is so concerned about France's policies, it may be because the NGO is worried about other countries imitating France. As Freschi warns, the "perils and injustices facing Muslims in France are likely to be exported to its neighbors." Freschi also mentions France holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union until June and warns that Macron will use the post as "to consolidate his political position."
In his conclusion, Freschi lists CAGE's recommendations. The organizations demands that France abrogate the "anti-separatist law, the imam charter, and the Islamophobic laws of 2004 and 2010" and that it "formally recognize the legal existence of minorities and give them the rights and legal protections."
CAGE's report and the Islamist media's efforts to publicize its claims suggest that France's anti-Islamist policies are bearing fruit.
The above piece was published in French in Marianne on March 23, 2022.
The author is a research fellow of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.