May 31, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10640

French Minister's Remarks On 'Sunni Islamist Terrorism' Sparks Outcry And Condemnation From Prominent Islamist Figures And Institutions

May 31, 2023
Special Dispatch No. 10640

On May 20, 2023, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin stated during his recent visit to the U.S.: "We have come to remind them that for Europeans, and for France, the primary risk is Sunni Islamist terrorism and that anti-terrorist collaboration between intelligence services is absolutely essential." This anodyne statement by Mr. Darmanin, whose maternal grandfather was an Algerian Muslim soldier in the French Army, has generated significant condemnation from various Islamist organizations, Islamists, and prominent figures, uniting criticism from Qatari-funded Islamists with those connected to the regime in Cairo. Their responses reflect deep concerns about the potential consequences of such statements on Islam, its followers, and the delicate relationship between France and the Muslim world. Among the reactions, some have gone as far as accusing France of past acts of terrorism during the colonial era, indulging in antisemitism, and reiterating conspiracy theories that portray the West as inherently anti-Sunni Islam and favoring Shi'ism. Others have highlighted the inherent opposition of Sunni Islam to "usurpers and occupiers."

This report will review the widespread and fervent condemnation expressed by various individuals and institutions in the past few days. Darmanin was correct, of course, since both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, both of whom have repeatedly attacked France, are indeed "Sunni Islamist terrorist" groups although perhaps he could have avoided some of the orchestrated ire by referring to them as "Salafi-Jihadist" terrorists.

On May 23, 2023, a coalition of 30 Islamic organizations from all across the Arab and Muslim world, including the Qatar-Funded And Operated International Union Of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), issued a joint statement condemning the remarks of the French minister. The statement warns that the continuation of provocative statements by the French political elite may result in adverse consequences for the French economy, the country's global standing, and its relations with the Muslim world.

The statement described the tone of the minister's statement as "provocative" and claimed that such tone "is not new to the French minister of interior, nor to the officials in the current government." The statement further noted that the statement's tone "adopts a discourse of stigmatization based on collective identity, contrary to the principles upheld by all divine religions and just laws. It deliberately generalizes unjust judgments and intentionally insults the religion of Islam, in a futile attempt to encircle the growing Islamic presence, both socially and culturally, in France and other Western countries."

The statement includes three appeals. The first was "to the French political elite to abandon arrogance and cultural dominance in their dealings with Muslims, and to respect the religion of Islam, its beliefs, and its values." The second was to "French and Western Muslims to engage in political work, make their voices heard, increase their presence in the public sphere, challenge biased positions, and provocative statements." The third was to "Muslims worldwide to stand firmly against French marginalization, and to confront French campaigns of defamation and slander using peaceful and legal means."[1]

Al-Azhar in Cairo, one of the leading Sunni Islamic institutions in the world, released a statement on May 24, 2023, condemning Darmanin's remarks as "irresponsible" and indicative of a "huge ignorance of Islam" that denies its rich civilization throughout history. Al-Azhar's statement noted that "the repetition of such irresponsible statements and similar ones by Western officials, despite their clear negative impact on Muslim citizens in Western societies as recognized by wise individuals in both the East and the West, reflects a huge ignorance of Islam and a denial of its civilization in old and contemporary history. It is also an unjustified and deliberate provocation of the feelings of Muslims around the world." Al-Azhar concluded its brief statement by warning Muslims around the world that "these irresponsible statements fuel sectarian conflicts, sow discord among followers of various Islamic schools of thought, and deepen division, strife, and conflict in our Arab and Islamic world."[2]

Commenting on the French Minister's statement, Qatar-based Syrian Islamist writer and researcher Khalil Al-Mukdad tweeted on May 21, in which he described Mr. Darmanin as a "right-wing racist, an extremist who seeks to expel foreigners. He is the son of the Gérard the Jew from Malta and manages a restaurant in Valenciennes, north of France." After reiterating Mr. Darmanin's statement, Al-Mukdad wrote: "It is natural for Sunni Islam to be the enemy of the usurper and occupier, and an opponent of falsehood and injustice, because it is the strongest, most widespread, and fastest-growing among them."[3]

On May 20, Gamal Sultan, editor-in-chief of the Egyptian daily Al-Mesryoon, took to Twitter and shared a post featuring an Al-Jazeera poster displaying the statement of the minister. In his tweet, he accused Europeans of deliberately targeting Sunni Muslims in the Middle East through economic embargoes and support for dictatorial regimes, all with the aim of obstructing any potential popular uprisings or advancements. He emphasized how in the past, whenever he raised concerns about such targeting, he would be dismissed and labeled with accusations of "sectarian thinking" or "biased religious interpretation." He concluded by saying, "The French interior minister said it clearly and explicitly, 'to your face,' as the common saying in Egypt goes!"[4]

In a May 26 tweet, Syrian cartoonist Ammar Agha Alkala drew a parallel between Darmanin's statement and former U.S. President George Bush's remarks about the Crusade against Arabs and Muslims. He also highlighted the Russian priest's blessing of Putin's fighter jets "that have been involved in the killing of children in Syria," as well as China and India's treatment of Muslims. Additionally, he referenced Bashar's actions against the Syrian people and Israel's actions against the Palestinians. Alkala further observed that the statement resonates with the treatment of people by Arab regimes. Concluding his tweet, he expressed that these instances reflect "different chapters of the culture of genocide against Muslims," a narrative he believes is propagated by "Zionist" forces and supported by the "civilized West."[5]

Former Vice President of Iraq, Tariq Al-Hashimi, strongly condemned the statement in a May 22 tweet. He wrote: "When the French interior minister in Macron's government accuses one and a half billion Muslims of terrorism, he falls into one of three categories: either he is ignorant of the facts, or he knows them but deliberately ignores them out of cunning. In both cases, he should be excluded from the ministry due to his incompetence and unsuitability, or he is a chauvinist and must be held accountable. The irresponsible statement of the minister reminds Muslims of France's dirty face and its chauvinistic stance toward Islam, as well as the millions of citizens killed during the dark colonial era. Islam remains a religion of peace, justice, and coexistence. I strongly condemn this statement and urge all those who care about Islam to denounce and condemn it."[6]

In a tweet posted on May 20, 2023, Abdelfattah Fayed, the Egyptian Affairs editor at Al Jazeera channel, stated that "one of the characteristics of far-right figures in the West, such as Trump and those similar to him, is their boldness in speaking the truth as they perceive it, even if others do not openly express it."[7] He then inferred that from the French minister's perspective, Iran, China, and Russia are not considered enemies, but rather Sunni Islam is viewed as the enemy.

Some have interpreted the minister's statement as suggesting his alignment with Shi'ite terrorism. Among them is U.K.-based blogger Emaad Samrraie, who expressed this view in a May 22 tweet.[8] Samrraie further asserted that the French interior minister's words reflect not only his personal views but the stance of all leaders in the region, irrespective of their Arab or non-Arab backgrounds.

Kuwaiti writer Nader Al-Wathir delved into conspiracy theories, suggesting that the West intentionally aims to divide nations, as he interpreted the minister's statement. In a May 21 tweet, he stated: "This represents the Western strategy of fragmenting nations, utilizing sectarian and racial divisions. The minister's words selectively target one group, creating an illusion that the other party is exempt from terrorism accusations. However, in reality, the minister's stance does not differentiate between them, particularly when their Eastern Muslim adversary rests amid oil and gas fields."[9]

Saudi Islamist professor Ahmad Bin Rashid Bin Saeed shared a similar perspective, asserting that the Western war on Sunni Islam has been ongoing and has transformed in various ways. In a lengthy tweet posted on May 23, he stated, "The war against Sunni Islam has never ceased since the Crusaders' campaigns in the Middle Ages, albeit assuming different manifestations. The so-called war on 'political Islam' is, in fact, a war against Sunni Islam."[10]

In response to the widespread criticism of the minister's statement, French-Tunisian imam Hassen Chalghoumi strongly denounced what he referred to as a "hate campaign" by "the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Islamist media outlets like Al Jazeera" against the interior minister. He expressed deep concern over the dangerous implications of this campaign, emphasizing its potential to undermine societal cohesion, fuel division, and incite radical Islamists to commit acts of terrorism. Chalghoumi called on people to "stand together, remain united, and maintain vigilance in the face of such discourse of hatred and mass manipulation."[11]


[1], May 23, 2023.

[2]الأخبار/ArtMID/10120/ArticleID/70341/الأزهر-يستنكر-التصريحات-غير-المسئولة-لمسئول-فرنسي-عن-الإسلام-السني, May 24, 2023.

[3], May 21, 2023.

[4], May 20, 2023.

[5], May 26, 2023.

[6], May 22, 2023.

[7], May 20, 2023.

[8], May 22, 2023.

[9], May 21, 2023.

[10], May 23, 2023.

[11], May 24, 2023.

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