France’s deradicalization centers seen as a ‘total fiasco’
James McAuley, WaPo, Feb 24 2017
PARIS — A bipartisan report in the French Senate minced no words in describing this country’s efforts against terrorism. In the words of Philippe Bas, a senator from the opposition Republican party, described the French government’s attempt to “deradicalize” former and future terrorists, including the opening of a deradicalization center in the middle of the countryside, was a “total fiasco.” Among the most damning elements in the report was a firm condemnation of the planned network of 12 deradicalization centers. A wave of terrorist violence, perpetrated mostly by French or EU passport-holders, has claimed the lives of 230 people in France since Jan 2015, and the administration of François Hollande has struggled to improvise a solution to the problem. The deradicalization centers, officially called Centers for Prevention, Integration and Citizenship, were meant to impose rigorous routines on those they housed as well as to subject them to intense courses in French history and philosophy. As PM Cazeneuve said while serving as interior minister last fall at the opening of the first center:
We can only fight against terrorism by respecting the principles of the Republic.
But five months later, only one of 12 planned centers has opened, and that one, in an 18th-century chateau deep in the scenic Loire Valley, is empty. Catherine Troendlé, a senator from the Republicans who signed the report, said in a statement;
This failure fully illustrates the lack of evaluation of the mechanisms set up by the state in the area of taking responsibility for radicalization and the lack of a comprehensive prevention strategy.
The report concluded that the programs had been designed hastily, without due diligence. Esther Benbassa, a senator from the left-wing Europe Ecology party, another of the report’s authors, said:
Despite their goodwill, several associations seeking public funding in times of fiscal shortage, turned to the deradicalization sector without any real experience. This created an unfortunate business of deradicalization.
The French security establishment had long criticized the government’s deradicalization effort as a knee-jerk reaction designed to put an increasingly anxious electorate at ease. Jean-Charles Brisard, director of the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, cited as a potential model the example of Britain, which practices a more holistic technique at the local level. He said in an interview:
It’s impossible to deradicalize individuals. We all believe that the best thing to do is to act instead with preventative measures, rather than trying to change the minds of people after the fact. You need the involvement of every single actor at the local level, schools, religious leaders, social services, police, municipalities. We’ve taken some of these initiatives, but in general what we have is still insufficient and indeed weak.
Hollande suffered a historic decline in popularity, due in part to the terrorist attacks that have occurred during his tenure. He announced in December that he will not seek reelection in the forthcoming presidential elections in April and May. In the final months before the vote, national security issues as well as the increasingly Islamophobic rhetoric of France’s far right, remain at the center of political debate.