"We Must Sever the Link..."
An interesting (in the Chinese sense of the word) story about an investigation into terrorist activities in the region of Rhône-Alpes has been making headlines. So far, Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie has expressed her righteous indignation, one hapless functionary has been reprimanded and demoted, and the prefect of the Rhône (left) has spewed forth his apologies to the Muslim community lest they be offended by the association of terrorism with Islam.
Here is a synopsis from Nouvel Obs of what transpired:
On September 16 the department of human resources of the region of Rhône-Alpes received an e-mail from the Rhône police asking if among the salaried personnel of the regional council there were "employees belonging to a religion other than Christianity." The message also inquired if any employees had "requested changes in schedules in order to practice their religion."
The e-mail came from a police agent in the Division of General Information (SDIG), which is under the departmental Bureau of Public Security of the Rhône (DDSP). These agencies were once called "Renseignements Généraux" (general intelligence), roughly equivalent to our FBI.
Alliot-Marie immediately ordered the general director of the national police to conduct an investigation and to turn in a report within 24 hours at the latest. "It is totally inadmissible to ask such questions to a local collectivity, on a subject that has no place in the activities of a departmental bureau of general intelligence."
As a result of the investigation, the prefect of the Rhône, Jacques Gérault, admitted that he had ordered a "study on the evolution of radical Islamist networks in the Rhône region, but not on Muslims." He insisted that the functionary who sent the e-mail acted independently, and thought he was doing the right thing, adding that the incriminated police officer had received, until then, good ratings, and that he "regretted his actions." The man was reprimanded and removed from his mission.
Libé Lyon has more on Prefect Gérault. A reminder that a prefect is an agent of the State, whose job it is to represent the State and to see to it that the laws of the Republic are carried out. Some prefects have police powers.
The prefect reread aloud the e-mail sent by a police officer on September 16: "Would you be so kind as to indicate if among your personnel, you have employees belonging to a religion other than Christianity." Jacques Gérault raises his eyebrows and his voice: "This is 1100 in the time of the Crusades!" The former office chief of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, now representing the State in the department of the Rhône trembles as he reads the e-mail. (...) He wants to set the record straight and to explain the circumstances in which that officer from Lyons sent such a message. The local papers had said that it all was on orders from the prefect. "When you read that, you have the impression that the prefect is running a subversive organization."
He explains that the deputy prefect on security issues had ordered a rapid inquiry from the SDIG. The police had until the end of the month (which coincided with the end of Ramadan) to come up with a report on the radicalization of Islam. Not on the religious practices of Muslims, insists the prefect:
"The fight against extremist networks is essential, natural and will continue. We must sever this link, this confusion, between Islam and radicalism. It is the second religion of France; one day perhaps it will be the first, and that is not my problem. They are French citizens. When you lead people to believe that an order came from the prefect, the Muslim population is going to say once again that we're meddling in everything. I even spoke about this on Thursday with Kamel Kabtane (grand mufti of the Lyons mosque, who had taken his case to the President of the French Republic)."
The officer who sent the e-mail was investigated within 24 hours and did not incriminate his superiors. The prefect goes on:
"He committed not an error, but a grave fault, an individual fault. He acted outside of any authorization. This functionary received two punishments that take effect today. He was reprimanded - and this will stay on his record - and he has been transferred out of his functions as of 8:00 a.m. today. It was important to act quickly. The fault is is serious. The Muslim population must not feel stigmatized. (...) It is the second religion of France. It is as respectable as the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist faiths, and any others. All we wanted was information on cells of radical Islam, exclusively."
The photo of a Muslim reading is from Nouvel Obs. The photo of Prefect Gérault is from Le Salon Beige.