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Letter: France is against ‘Islamist separatism’ — never Islam

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For its readers, and I am one, being informed by the Financial Times means being certain of accessing robust facts, rich analysis and reliable information, without needing to verify its veracity. Therefore, who could imagine that the statements made publicly by the head of a G7 member state could be distorted by this news organisation?

And yet, that is what happened in a column published online yesterday. The piece misquoted me, substituting “Islamic separatism” — a term that I have never used — for “Islamist separatism”, which is a reality in my country. It accused me of stigmatising French Muslims for electoral purposes and of fostering a climate of fear and suspicion towards them.

I shall not discuss the questionable rigour of this article nor even the ideological foundations on which it is based. I simply wish to remind your readers of some simple facts, explain the situation of my country and the challenges it has to face.

For over five years now, and since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, France has faced a wave of attacks perpetrated by terrorists in the name of an Islam that they have distorted. Some 263 people — police officers, soldiers, teachers, journalists, cartoonists, ordinary citizens — have been assassinated in our homeland. Most recently, an attack that fortunately did not result in any casualties once again targeted the premises of Charlie Hebdo; a history and geography teacher, Samuel Paty, was decapitated; in Nice, two women and a man were assassinated in a church.

Faced with this ill that is eating into our country, France has rallied with resilience, with determination.

Firstly, by standing firm on its principles. France has been attacked by Islamist terrorists because it embodies freedom of expression, the right to believe or not to believe and a certain way of life. The French people have risen up to say that they will not surrender any of France’s values, its identity, or its imagination. Nor any of these human rights that it proclaimed for the world, back in 1789.

Our nation has also rallied by tracking down the terrorists wherever they may be. The French army shows exemplary courage in the Sahel and its action against terrorist groups benefits all of Europe. Our intelligence and police services, which have paid a heavy price, prevent dozens of attacks each year. The whole state mobilises on the basis of laws discussed and voted on by parliament. For we will not surrender democracy, or the rule of law either.

But since 2015 it has become clear, and I said this even before I became president, that there are breeding grounds for terrorists in France. In certain districts and on the internet, groups linked to radical Islam are teaching hatred of the republic to our children, calling on them to disregard its laws. That is what I called “separatism” in one of my speeches.

If you do not believe me, read the social media postings of hatred shared in the name of a distorted Islam that resulted in Paty’s death. Visit the districts where small girls aged three or four are wearing a full veil, separated from boys, and, from a very young age, separated from the rest of society, raised in hatred of France’s values.

Speak to government prefects who are confronted on the ground with hundreds of radicalised individuals, who we fear may, at any moment, take a knife and kill people. This is what France is fighting against — designs of hatred and death that threaten its children — never against Islam. We oppose deception, fanaticism, violent extremism. Not a religion.

We say: “Not here in our country!” And we have every right to say this, as a sovereign nation and a free people. Against the terrorists who want to break us, we remain united. We can do without media articles that divide us.

I will not allow anybody to claim that France, or its government, is fostering racism against Muslims. France — we are attacked for this — is as secular for Muslims as for Christians, Jews, Buddhists and all believers. The neutrality of the state, which never intervenes in religious affairs, is a guarantee of freedom of worship. Our law enforcement forces protect mosques, churches and synagogues alike.

France is a country that knows what it owes to the Islamic civilisation: its mathematics, its science, its architecture all borrow from it, and I announced the creation of an institute in Paris to showcase this great wealth. France is a country where Muslim leaders speak out when the worst happens, and call on followers to fight radical Islamism and defend freedom of expression.

One can pretend not to see these realities, but one cannot ignore them indefinitely. For as Averroes, the 12th-century polymath, once wrote: “Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hatred, and hatred leads to violence.”

Therefore let us not nurture ignorance, by distorting the words of a head of state. We know only too well where that can lead.

Instead, let us prefer clear-headed rigour and rigorous work; enlightened wisdom.

Editors note: the online opinion piece that this letter refers to was published briefly on November 2 and then removed for review after readers pointed out factual inaccuracies.

Letter in response to this letter:

France and America both face battle over rights / From Stephen Horwitz, Bethesda, MD, US



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Global house prices: Raising the roof

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Global house prices: Raising the roof



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Missing Belarus activist found hanged in Kyiv park

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Belarus updates

A Belarusian opposition activist has been found hanged from a tree in a park near his home in Ukraine, a day after he was reported missing. Local police said his death could have been made to look like suicide.

Vitaly Shishov, who led the Kyiv-based organisation Belarusian House, which helps Belarusians fleeing persecution find their feet in Ukraine, had been reported missing by his partner on Monday after not returning from a run.

Shishov’s death follows weeks of increased pressure in Belarus by authorities against civil society activists and independent media as part of what the country’s authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko has called a “mopping-up operation” of “bandits and foreign agents”.

Many Belarusians have fled the country since Lukashenko launched a brutal crackdown last summer after nationwide protests erupted following his disputed victory in presidential elections. About 35,000 people have been arrested in Belarus and more than 150,000 are thought to have crossed into neighbouring Ukraine.

Franak Viacorka, an aide to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who met UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday in London, said Shishov’s death was “absolutely shocking and unexpected to all of us”.

“He [Shishov] and his friends helped people who were moving to Ukraine,” Viacorka told the Financial Times. “They were very helpful, especially for those who have just arrived and didn’t know what to do.”

Viacorka said many activists living in Ukraine, such as Shishov who fled Belarus in 2020, had “complained about possibly being followed, and receiving threats”.

Kyiv park where Vitaly Shyshov’s body was found
The Kyiv park where Vitaly Shishov’s body was found after he failed to return home following a run © Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Downing Street said that after meeting Tsikhanouskaya, Johnson condemned the Lukashenko regime’s severe human rights violations. “The UK stands in solidarity of the people of Belarus and will continue to take action to support them,” a spokesperson said.

Ukrainian police have now launched a criminal case for the suspected murder of Shishov, including the possibility of “murder disguised as suicide”.

Yuriy Shchutsko, an acquaintance and fellow Belarus refugee who found Shishov’s body, ruled out suicide, pointing out that Shishov’s nose was broken.

“I suspect this was the action of the [Belarus] KGB . . . we knew they were hunting for us,” he told Ukrainian television.

Ihor Klymenko, head of the National Police of Ukraine, subsequently said Shishov’s body had what appeared to be “torn tissue” on his nose and other wounds, but stressed it would be up to medical examiners to determine if these were caused by beatings or the result of suicide.

There was no immediate comment from Lukashenko or his administration.

Belarusian House said: “There is no doubt that this is an operation planned by the Chekists [the Belarusian KGB] to eliminate someone truly dangerous for the regime.

“Vitalik was under surveillance,” it added. “We were repeatedly warned by both local sources and our people in the Republic of Belarus about all kinds of provocations up to kidnapping and liquidation.”

Adding to the swirl of attention on Belarus this week, Tokyo Olympics sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya on Monday took refuge in Poland’s embassy after alleging she had been taken to the airport against her will, having criticised her Belarusian coaches.

The athlete has said she feared punishment if she went back to Belarus but has so far declined to link her problems to the country’s divisions.

Shishov’s death comes five years after Pavel Sheremet, a prominent Belarus-born opposition figure and journalist, was killed in an improvised bomb explosion in downtown Kyiv while driving to work at a local radio station. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994.

Ukrainian authorities at first suggested Belarusian or Russian security services could have been involved in the hit, as Sheremet was close to opposition movements in Russia as well.

Instead, officials charged three Ukrainian volunteers who supported war efforts against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine — although they steadfastly denied involvement and authorities were unable to provide a motive in what has been widely described as a flimsy case.

Additional reporting by Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London



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EU pledges aid to Lithuania to combat illegal migration from Belarus

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EU immigration updates

In the latest sign of deteriorating relations between the EU and Belarus, Brussels has promised extra financial aid and increased diplomatic heft to help Lithuania tackle a migrant crisis that it blames on neighbouring Belarus and its dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

Lithuania detained 287 illegal migrants on Sunday, more than it did in the entirety of 2018, 2019, and 2020 combined, the vast majority of them Iraqis who had flown to Belarus’s capital Minsk before heading north to cross into the EU state. Almost 4,000 migrants have been detained this year, compared with 81 for the whole of 2020. 

“What we are facing is an aggressive act from the Lukashenko regime designed to provoke,” Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner for home affairs told reporters on Monday after talks with Lithuania’s prime minister Ingrida Simonyte. “The situation is getting worse and deteriorating . . . There is no free access to EU territory.”

The EU imposed sweeping sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime in June, after he fraudulently claimed victory in last year’s presidential election and then led a brutal campaign to violently suppress protesters and jail political opponents. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994.

The rising concern over the migrant crossings, which EU officials say is a campaign co-ordinated by Lukashenko’s administration, comes as one of the country’s athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympic Games sought refuge in Poland after team management attempted to fly her home against her will after she publicly criticised their actions.

Johansson said the EU would provide €10m-€12m of immediate emergency funding and would send a team of officials to the country to assess the requirements for longer-term financial assistance, including for extra border security and facilities to process those attempting to enter.

Simonyte said that Vilnuis would require “tens of millions of euros” by the end of the year if the number of people attempting to cross the border continued at the current pace.

Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told the Financial Times in June that Belarus was “weaponising” illegal immigration to put pressure on the Baltic country over its housing of several opposition leaders. Since then, the flow of illegal immigrants from Iraq, Syria, and several African countries has increased sharply.

Iraqi diplomats visited Vilnius at the end of last week after Lithuania’s foreign minister flew to Baghdad in mid-July. Johannson said on Monday that EU diplomats were engaged in “intensive contacts” with Iraqi officials, which she said were “more constructive than we had hoped”.

State carrier Iraqi Airways offers flights from four Iraqi airports to Minsk, according to its website. Former Estonian president Toomas Ilves suggested on Twitter that the EU could cut its aid to Iraq “immediately until they stop these flights”.

Speaking at the border with Belarus on Monday, Johansson added that the tents provided by Lithuania were unsuitable for families. Lithuania’s interior minister Agne Bilotaite said she hoped the number of illegal migrants would subside in the coming months but that Vilnius was planning to build some housing to accommodate them over the upcoming winter.



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