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State of Emergency in France: 2,200 Police Raids, 3 Closed Mosques, Hundreds of Muslims Detained

StoryDecember 03, 2015
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French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced Wednesday that authorities had carried out more than 2,200 raids since a state of emergency was declared following the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people. Under the state of emergency, French police can raid any home without judicial oversight. In addition, police have held 263 people for questioning—nearly all have been detained. Another 330 people are under house arrest, and three mosques have also been shut down. The vast majority of those targeted in the raids have been Muslim. We speak with Yasser Louati, spokesperson and head of the International Relations Desk for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Here in Paris, the French interior minister announced Wednesday French authorities had carried out more than 2,200 raids since the state of emergency declared following the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people. On Sunday, I sat down with Yasser Louati, a spokesperson and head of the International Relations Desk for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France.

YASSER LOUATI: We have several cases, highly disturbing cases—for example, they raided several mosques, like seven of them. At least three got thrashed by the police as they were, you know, searching them. And we all know that all mosques are under high surveillance, so why raid a place you already know has nothing to give you? And second, why add humiliation to injury by thrashing the place? Now we also have several cases of brutal raids being conducted. For example, a six-year-old child was hit by shrapnels after the police shot two shotgun fires through the door. We had a restaurant being raided as people were having dinner. And now we even have, you know, several cases of just open humiliation of mothers in front of their children and husbands.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain under what legal grounds are these raids taking place? I mean, Hollande, the president of France, declared a state of emergency that’s continuing for months. What does that allow them to do?

YASSER LOUATI: First, the background of this law is, in 1955, during the Algerian War, they declared a state of emergency. But it was against dangerous activities. Now they raid people and put them under house arrest under the suspicion of—what can we say? No, the suspicion of suspicious behavior. So now they’re trying to criminalize even the intention of people. And that’s why most of the raids did not bring anything tangible, because now the local governor can decide which home can be raided, which restaurant, and they barely have—they don’t have to even explain themselves. And now we see a blatant case of an authoritarian regime being implemented upon us.

AMY GOODMAN: I also understand that a number of climate activists—not Muslim, not French Arab—have been put under house arrest or have been arrested altogether.

YASSER LOUATI: Because all this, you know, retaliation from the government is spiraling out of control. Of course, to implement that, they said, “We are going to target the Muslim minority. And all Muslims, don’t worry. It’s just that tiny fraction of radicals amongst you,” without defining what being a radical means. But now, once the Muslim minority bear the brunt of these retaliations, we had the COP21 coming, and now they have raided, for example, a farm selling organic food. They raided a place where you had, you know, ecologist militants. And now people are being scared of how far can the government take all these measures.

AMY GOODMAN: We have a video of a six-year-old child. Explain what happened.

YASSER LOUATI: Actually, they raided the place. It was in the city of Nice. They showed up, I think, at 2:00 in the morning or 4:00 a.m. They shot twice through the door to make their way in, and then I think they shot again through—against one of the doors, and the shrapnel hit the girl in the back of her neck.

AMY GOODMAN: A six-year-old girl.

YASSER LOUATI: A six-year-old child, yes. And then the police said, “Sorry, wrong house,” and just walked away.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to that videotape. This is the father of the six-year-old girl describing what happened.

FATHER: [translated] I was woken up by noisy pounding and shootings at the door. They were trying to break the door down. I did not know if they were the police or not. They did not give any warning. When they saw me, they forced me to the ground to neutralize me. My daughter was hit in the neck, probably by some shotgun pellets. Fortunately, it could have been more serious. The wood of the bed stopped them somehow. But I was scared to death to see blood on my daughter. Imagine, at 4:30 in the morning. I wish nobody to have such an experience.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a videotape of a home that was raided where a six-year-old girl was injured. Yasser Louati, did the government apologize for what they did?

YASSER LOUATI: Actually, we had to have videos before the government started speaking about this violence and this brutality. And so far, the raid, or the equivalent of your SWAT teams in the U.S., they said, “We take full responsibility for this excess.” But we had to have videos, because we have dozens of cases of being violently raided at night, and the police were saying, “Sorry, wrong house,” and walking away. And now the minister of interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, only spoke about this brutality after a video showed this restaurant being raided as people were having dinner and the owner handing the key to the police. And what they said, they prefer to smash the door to make their way in.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s show a copy of that videotape.

RESTAURANT OWNER: [translated] I was serving my clients, and out of the blue, around 40 fully equipped riot police entered my restaurant. They had shotguns, bulletproof vests, etc. They proceeded to secure the perimeter.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the videotape of a restaurant being raided, a halal restaurant—


AMY GOODMAN: —being raided. You’re a leader in the community. Is the government reaching out to you?

YASSER LOUATI: So far, no. They just said, “Well, bring all the cases of excesses you have, and we’ll see what we can do.” And now the minister of interior said, “We ask the police officers and the SWAT teams to respect human dignity,” or something like that. But when you give them a blank check, and when local governors can decide who can be raided, and when such violence is reported to you, nothing is being said or done. We had to wait for the videos to be shown until the government started actually taking that into consideration.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the effect of the mosques being raided on the Muslim community?

YASSER LOUATI: Oh, an outrage and deep humiliation and complete abandonment by the government. The question was like, why? You know what’s going on in mosques. The minister of interior knows radicalization does not happen inside mosques. And they just came here, they found nothing and started, like, pulling off ceilings. They smashed the libraries, threw books on the floor and just walked away. If it isn’t a sense of vengeance, you know, you are applying against Muslims, then what is it? Why not respect human dignity. I mean, like, you know, these Muslims are the very same target as you are people. Well, you are not Muslims. Why hit them again by government forces that show no respect whatsoever? And when the pictures went viral on social media, the government said nothing about that.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve talked about feeling doubly, triply targeted, but talk about ISIS. I mean, overall, ISIS has killed more Muslims than, certainly, any other—people of any other religion.

YASSER LOUATI: Yes, this is where the trap lies, because—or actually the blindness lies, sorry. This so-called Daesh or ISIL, whatever they call themselves, you know, said they were doing this for Muslims, what French Muslims were experiencing in France as a minority. And I keep saying, if they really care about Muslims, why they keep killing them by the thousands? And this has been going on for years. And now they came to France, and they even killed Muslims here at home in Paris. So, this is something we keep repeating over and over. But if I were to take responsibility for their actions, I would have loved for these anchors to take responsibility for what George W. Bush did to Iraq, which ended up giving us these terrorist groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Yasser Louati, what do you think needs to happen now?

YASSER LOUATI: To fight terrorism or to fight this, you know, the—


YASSER LOUATI: We need to review our foreign policy, which is a disaster. You know, France was perceived, not long—like 10 years ago, was perceived as this country promoting human rights and the friend of the oppressed, etc. Now, since Sarkozy became president, it became the enemy of many, so many people around the world. France supported several dictatorships. We remember the example of Tunisia, for example. As the former dictator Ben Ali was losing his grip on the country, Nicolas Sarkozy was still showing support. We even had the minister of interior proposing to help him in order to crack down on all these protesters. So now France is perceived as this colonial country that’s still, you know, participating in the destabilization of many countries.

Look at Libya. Look what’s going on in Tunisia. And again, we keep paying the price for our completely unreliable foreign policy, and now we don’t want to address our socioeconomic policies here in France. We don’t want to address the problem of mass unemployment. We don’t want to address the problem of unequal access to education, unequal access to housing. And the government still thinks that by bombing foreign countries, they will reach the result.

Terrorism evolved with our societies. They changed their rhetoric, their dogma changed, their communications changed, but our strategies have remained frozen in time. You know, Einstein said something that I keep using, is that madness is when you keep repeating the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. But now we have a four-year failure on this war against terror, and still the government thinks it might work again by bombing people. Definitely we are in a period of elections. We have the local elections in December and the presidential election coming in 2016. They are just positioning themselves to either get elected or re-elected.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the refugee crisis?

YASSER LOUATI: They are paying the highest price. They keep saying we need to shut down our borders. The problem is that France had experienced terrorist attacks while borders were closed, before we even had the Schengen Agreement. So, again, we are—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the Schengen Agreement?

YASSER LOUATI: It’s how you make people—it’s the right to freely move throughout Europe. And we had attacks before the Schengen Agreement. So why use refugees as a scapegoat? And on top of that—and I would take it as an insult, if I were the French president or a minister—refugees don’t want to come to France. They keep saying, “We don’t want to come to your country. We just want to go to the U.K. or to Germany.” And even if France received like—you know, accepted like 10,000 refugees, which is the lowest number throughout Europe, they keep using them as scapegoats to justify these liberticide measures.

AMY GOODMAN: When talking about refugees being denied entrance into the United States, you can go back to World War II, and a Gallup poll was done in 1939 asking Americans if 10,000 Jewish refugee children—you know, this was the time of the Nazis—should be allowed into the United States, and 60 percent of Americans said no. And then there was the Missouri [MS St. Louis], the ship, called “Voyage of the Damned,” that took 900 German Jews as they were fleeing the Nazis. Cuba said they couldn’t come in, and then the U.S. said they couldn’t come in. Hundreds of the people on this ship were returned to Germany and killed. Can you talk about this experience of Jews and how you relate to it as a Muslim?

YASSER LOUATI: As a Muslim, I’d like to make the connection with a similar story of Jewish refugees looking for a place to go to throughout Europe, and they were denied access all over Europe, but they keep going from one country to another. But let’s remember that during World War II, as France was collaborating with the Nazis, the Grand Mosque of Paris was actually harboring Jews, while France was sending them or shipping them to Nazi Germany to be exterminated. And another Muslim person actually refused to give up on his own citizens. That was the King Mohammed V of Morocco. And unfortunately, we keep forgetting history. What’s happening right now with Syrian refugees, and even Iraqi refugees, happened to Jews not long ago. And unfortunately, again, we keep repeating the same mistakes, because nobody teaches history to our children.

AMY GOODMAN: Yasser Louati, spokesperson for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France. Since the November 13th attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, French authorities have carried out more than 2,200 raids. Under the state of emergency, French police can raid any home without judicial oversight. Hundreds have been questioned, a number jailed; others are under house arrest. Three mosques have also been shut down. The vast majority of those targeted in the raids have been Muslim.

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