Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Will France’s immigration law pass the imam test?


FRANCE’S new immigration law is being tested by the summary deportation to his native Tunisia of an imam who said the French flag was satanic and ‘had no value for Allah’.

Mahjoub Mahjoubi was put on a plane home at the speed of light – actually in 12 hours – after being detained on the instructions of interior minister Gérard Darmanin, who didn’t conceal his delight at the success of a public relations coup that caught human rights activists unawares.

Expulsion was the easy part since Mahjoubi has vowed to return to France, where had lived since 1986, and there will be a difficult legal battle. But Darmanin has made his point.

Parliament enacted the law last month over the opposition of the left and the bien pensant centre which said it pandered to Marine Le Pen’s populist Rassemblement National, or National Rally (formerly National Front). It was promptly watered down by the Constitutional Council, partly at the prompting of President Macron who likes to face both ways at once in respect of his government’s social policies. 

Mahjoubi plans to appeal against Darmanin’s decision through the French courts, and threatens to take his case to the European Court of Justice if his deportation is upheld.

The fight is part of the constant struggle between government and open borders activists over who decides who has the right to live where in a world of porous national frontiers where the concept of asylum – refuge from persecution – has been extended to anyone who simply wants to move country.

Darmanin’s immigration law was intended to assert the primacy of national governments but the final say, as the British government has frequently discovered, lies with the judges who are guided by ECHR rules and precedent.

The interior minister appears to believe that the new law makes his decision judge-proof although Mahjoubi, who is 52, has five children who are French nationals and his lawyers will cite his right to a family life. He does not appear to have French citizenship himself but had a residence permit, now cancelled.

In Mahjoubi’s case, which has a free speech dimension, there is a question of the rights and responsibilities of immigrants once they are admitted. Calling the French flag satanic does not a priori threaten the foundations of the Republic.

In a 2022 case, judges upheld an expulsion order against Hassan Iquioussen, an imam in the north of France, for promoting hatred and violence. At the same time, they ruled his claim that Islamic law took precedence over French law was not in itself a ground for expulsion because it involved freedom of expression. Iquioussen fled to Belgium which later deported him to Morocco for calling his new hosts fascists. 

Mahjoubi was detained after remarks in a video which went viral. It isn’t clear whether he was already under the surveillance of the authorities who have been keeping a closer eye on extremist preaching in Arabic in mosques since the recent murders by Islamists of teachers Samuel Paty and Dominique Bernard.

Mahjoubi claimed he had made a slip of the tongue due to his imperfect command of French after 38 years of residence. But the expulsion order cited his alleged anti-Semitism and misogyny and described his preaching as promoting a ‘retrograde, intolerant and violent image of Islam which was likely to encourage behaviour contrary to the values of the Republic’.

Despite this, groups who monitor what is preached in mosques known for their Salafist leanings said Mahjoubi’s sermons were not particularly extreme.

After Dominique Bernard’s killing last year by a former pupil originating from the Russian republic of Ingushetia, it emerged that attempts had been made to deport Mahjoubi and his family but were foiled by protests from pro-immigrant groups. His father had been deported on his own earlier and his brother is serving a prison sentence for terrorist-related activities.

Darmanin tightened his immigration law as a result. Whether he has succeeded depends on the outcome of Mahjoubi’s appeals. The minister also wants to create an official statute for imams to regularise their religious training credentials and weed out the rabble-rousers from North Africa who preach a politicised Islam.

France deported 15,000 people last year. An official directive to leave France can be issued to foreigners, usually when they are refused residence papers, but many remain in the country illegally. The system relies on them self-deporting.

Like other EU countries, France has been entered by hundreds of thousands of illegal and unemployable young immigrant males from Africa and the Middle East who do not integrate and often turn to crime as a survival lifestyle. Darmanin’s law is an effort to limit the inflow, but its success depends on the co-operation of the judges and it does not tackle the problem of disaffected Muslim youths born in France who are protected as citizens. 

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Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

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