Guantanamo-Like Prison, Ban on Foreign Funding of Mosques Proposed as France Weighs Responses to Terror

Fayçal Benhassain | August 5, 2016 | 2:12am EDT
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Armed French police on patrol. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Paris ( – As French officials ponder responses to a series of terror attacks, among the more provocative proposals are one by France Prime Minister Manuel Valls for a ban on foreign financing of mosques in the country, and another by a senior lawmaker for a Guantanamo-like prison.

Valls said in a statement he was “open to the idea that for a period yet to be determined there should be no financing from abroad for the construction of mosques.”

The proposal has drawn some strong reactions.

“These statements irritate me,” said Abdallah Zekri of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, after meeting with Valls. “If these funds are really doubtful than why doesn’t he forbid them permanently? But then he should tell us, who will finance them?”

French law prohibits public funding to build and maintain places of worship, whatever the religion.

There are some 2,300 mosques in France, supported by funds from various Islamic countries, including Morocco, Algeria, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Support can also come from congregants.

“Mosques are in major part financed by the faithful themselves, through quests,” said Bernard Godard, a former head of the Interior Ministry’s religious affairs bureau. “Foreign aid is mainly for big projects, but the small and medium ones are carried out by the faithful themselves.”

One suggestion from Valls for an alternative funding source is a tax on halal products, an idea welcomed by politicians across political spectrum.

Abdeslam Maghraoui, associate political science professor at Duke University, said a ban on foreign funding could be part of the solution.

“There is a fluctuation of the places where young, mainly young people are being radicalized. So I think that to forbid foreign financing is only one step ahead to a solution.”

He added that “it is normal that a government should try everything to stop terrorism on his soil.”

But Maghraoui, whose research focuses on the interaction between culture and politics in Arab and Muslim-majority countries, said another problem in France was “social exclusion” of citizens of Arab descent.

Nathalie Goulet, a senator with the Union of Democrats and Independents’ party and author of a report on the financing of Islam in France, disputed that Muslims are necessarily being exposed to radical ideas in mosques.

“Manuel Valls assumes that radicalization is done in mosques when it is next door that young people become radicalized,” she said, referring to everyday interactions among Muslims, and exposure via social media.

Meanwhile lawmaker Georges Fenech, head of a parliamentary committee inquiring into the January and November 2015 terrorist attacks, suggested the government open a penitentiary in the south of the country akin to the U.S. terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The prison could be used to house jihadists, radicalized Muslims and those under police surveillance because they went to – or tried to go to – Syria to join extremist groups, he said.

“A Guantanamo in French would be the simplest solution. An institution dedicated to radicalized individuals would indeed be a solution.”

Supporters of the idea point to a speech by Valls last month in which he said a total of 2,147 French nationals had travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq and some of them could be jailed.

But President Francois Hollande said that establishing such “centers that are outside the law is not France.”

Marie-Christine Arnautu, member of far-right Front National, has called for the reintroduction of the death penalty in the light of the terrorist threat.

Maghraoui said the various proposals show the high level of anxiety in France, but criticized Fenech’s in particular.

“As for a Guantanamo like jail to be built, it is absurd. Don’t forget that people who were jailed in Guantanamo were not Americans but people coming from different countries like Morocco, Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” he said. “And I am not sure it contributed to slow down terrorism.”

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