Henry Samuel, Telegraph, February 23, 2017
France’s attempts to de-radicalise homegrown Islamist extremists in the wake of terror attacks has been pronounced a “total fiasco” in need of a complete overhaul in a damning parliamentary report.
President François Hollande launched the drive to reverse radicalisation among thousands of French Muslims in the wake of terror attacks that have killed 238 people since January 2015.
However, the report, by a cross-party senate committee, was denounced as an amateurish flop this week, accusing the government of funding “pseudo-experts” who pocketed millions of euros with few tangible results.
Among the damning revelations in the report were the fact that the only de-radicalisation centre currently up and running, and fully staffed at an annual cost of €2.5 million, is in fact empty. Among the last people it housed – supposedly non-threatening individuals tempted by radical Islam – one turned out to be on a terror watchlist and the other was caught seeking to reach Syria.
Twelve other centres slated to be set up have not been opened.
The report also found that many local associations supposed to help families deal with radicalised members are incompetent at best and many signed up simply to obtain public funding.
One supposedly groundbreaking programme to bring back radicalised inmates to the French Republican fold had to be scrapped after a prisoner duped the authorities into believing that he had reformed before seeking to murder guards.
Slamming the efforts to date, Philippe Bas, a centre-Right Republicans senator, said: “It’s a total fiasco. Everything requires a total rethink. Everything must be started from scratch.”
The report was seized on by Marine Le Pen’s National Front as validating its call to have Islamists detained or deported.
Some 15,000 people in France are followers of radical Islam, with a further 680, including about 275 women, thought to have joined jihadist movements in Iraq and Syria, the Socialist government has estimated. There are deep concerns in the intelligence community that many French who fought in Islamist ranks abroad will now return and try to wreak violence back home.
Mr Hollande is said to have ordered military chiefs to take as few as possible French Isil fighters prisoner, which experts say implies it would be preferable to target them in bombing raids or see them detained abroad.
The programme’s aim was to try and identity radicalised individuals and reinstall in them democratic and humanitarian values.
But the senators who wrote the report, Esther Benbassa, of the left-wing Ecology party, and Catherine Troendlé, from the centre-right Republicans, concluded that de-radicalisation is in fact impossible.
“We just have to admit that the most violent and dangerous people will not be [deradicalised],” Ms Troendlé said.
Ms Benbassa added: “Deradicalisation does not exist. They thought they could take someone and wash their brains. In fact, brainwashing doesn’t really work and it’s a dangerous myth. It’s understandable that the government wanted to reassure society after the terror attacks. But it started with a false premise.”
He accused the government of displaying “a good deal of amateurism, with people making it up as they went along. They really panicked.”
But he added: “I think any government would have done the same in that situation.”
Ms Troendié said the efforts were more about “reassuring the population” than anything else.
The senators offered little by way of suggestions for how to proceed bar “case by case” help, “work on reinsertion” into the community and “developing prevention”.
“This requires a whole network of social workers, educators, community police officers, imams and business leaders,” said Ms Troendié. “There will be no miracle.”