French authorities shut down three mosques on Wednesday in an attempt to prevent future acts like the Nov. 13 attack on Paris that killed 130 people. Despite the nation’s efforts, analysts say that closing mosques won’t stop radicalization or violent incidents.
“We have a desire to find a silver bullet and say radical imams are the reason that foreign fighters are going to Syria,” Daniel Milton, director of research at the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, told Bloomberg. “The research just doesn’t hold it up. They are part of the environment, but they are not in any way the key factor.”
Many of the Paris attackers never regularly attended a mosque. In fact, many of the young Europeans who join or sympathize with groups like ISIS never even step foot inside a mosque. A mosque in the southern French town of Lunel did see 20 attendants travel to fight in Syria, though there are no media reports of any committing domestic attacks to date and Muslim residents of the town have denounced what happened in Paris.
But in France, even some local Muslim leaders have called for shutting down radical mosques. The French Council for the Muslim Religion said “it would begin handing out permits after testing imams on adherence to French principles and theological knowledge,” according to the IB Times.
“The time for action has come. The Muslims of France will play their part,” said Anouar Kbibech, the council’s president.
Abdelali Mamoun is an imam from Alfortville, outside Paris, who told Bloomberg View that foreign links to many French mosques are part of the problem there. “Only between 30 percent and 40 percent of mosques in France are independent… [or] aren’t sponsored from abroad and don’t have imams imported and paid from abroad,” Bloomberg reported. “Many of these imams don’t feel French, speak the language well, or understand the lives of many of the second and third-generation immigrants they serve, according to Mamoun. Many speak as though their congregations have to make a choice between being Muslim and French.”
While finding more suited religious leaders for pious individuals is one thing, shutting down mosques can often cause more harm than good, experts say.
“Mosques tended to be very good at spotting those with extreme views and expelling them,” Michael Leiter, director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center under the Bush II and Obama administrations, told ThinkProgress about American mosques in the post-9/11 period. After the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, the NYPD began mass surveilling local Muslims — a program that returned scant results and damaged law enforcement’s relationship with the community. “The NYPD’s unlawful profiling of Muslims has damaged its relationship with American Muslims, breaching communities’ trust in a police department that is tasked with protecting them,” according to an ACLU factsheet.
Xavier Bertrand, a former French labor and health minister, said in a parliamentary debate last Wednesday that the focus should not be on mosques, but on countering radical websites. “It’s Imam Google,” he said, “that’s where they go, not to the mosque.”