In recent years, France has witnessed a stricter approach to combating terrorism within its borders. However, the government still sees the threats as persistent and evolving, despite recent measures taken.
During his visit to the United States on May 20, 2023, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin stated that terrorism is the primary threat to France and all Europeans. He called on Washington to continue intelligence cooperation with countries in this field.
Common Counterterrorism Challenges for the French
Darmanin emphasized that the purpose of his visit to the United States was to remind the American government that terrorism is Europe’s foremost pressing threat. This comes amidst Washington’s preoccupation with the far-right extremism based on white racial supremacy, along with the recurring incidents of shootings in American society.
The French minister also visited the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) training center in New York to enhance cooperation between the police and judiciary agencies in Paris and Washington regarding counterterrorism and organized crime syndicates.
The French and American sides discussed the security operations for major events scheduled in Europe in the coming period, such as the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris, the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, and Pope Francis’ visit to Marseille.
Regarding counterterrorism operations conducted by Western countries beyond their borders, Darmanin expressed regret over France’s withdrawal from the African coast and the United States’ and NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. He warned that the return of terrorist groups to reinforce their ranks in the Middle East foreshadows potential attacks that threaten Europe.
France had implemented a package of stringent measures to counter the spread of terrorism following a series of attacks that struck the country at the end of 2020. These measures included not importing foreign imams and restricting the role to French citizens. This was done to prevent foreign imams from adopting extremist ideologies or joining opposing intelligence agencies aiming to destabilize the country. Additionally, on November 23, 2020, Emmanuel Macron ordered the establishment of the Scientific Institute of Islamic Sciences to train French imams.
Furthermore, French authorities banned the Sheikh Yassin Association on October 22, 2020, and its leader, Abdelhakim Sefrioui, was put on trial due to suspicions of using materials that justified the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty. Paty was killed by a Chechen-origin immigrant on October 16, 2020.
Said Sadik, a professor of political sociology at the American University, says that France is attempting to combat terrorism through strict measures, but it is also engaging in intellectual opposition to extremism. This is done through the training of French imams and preventing foreign imams to ensure coherence with the internal traditions of society. Moreover, the establishment of scientific and jurisprudential centers for religious discourse has been launched. However, this does not mean that attacks on the country will immediately cease upon the implementation of stringent measures.
The researcher mentioned in his statement to “The Reference” that terrorism has become multifaceted and linked to the ability of groups to communicate electronically for carrying out attacks. This is in addition to the dissemination of violent content, along with other variables that affect the rates of terrorist operations in a particular region.
The French minister chose the term “Sunni terrorism” when speaking about the foremost threat to his country, disregarding other commonly used expressions in this description, such as the takfiri trend. This brings back the crisis facing Western societies, especially Europe, with the choice of precise terminology in dealing with this issue, without neglecting or sliding into political crises.
Criteria for Accurate Description of Terrorism
The French Minister chose the expression “Sunni terrorism” when discussing the foremost threat to his country, disregarding other commonly used terms such as “takfiri extremism.” This brings to the forefront the crisis within Western societies, particularly in Europe, concerning the precise terminology used to address this issue without neglecting or sliding into political crises.
President Macron has previously faced a political crisis due to the lack of clarity in his discourse regarding this issue. Regarding the role of accurately describing terrorist acts in undermining the movement, researcher Nasib Najib states in his book “Legal and Judicial International Cooperation in Pursuing Perpetrators of Terrorist Crimes” that differences among governments in defining international terrorism and those involved in it affect the handling of the issue and finding effective solutions.