French democracy was literally born out of head-chopping and terrorism

France is the old colonial power in Burkina Faso. Editorial credit: Alexandros Michailidis /

Moazzam Begg says until France is prosecuted for its past crimes against humanity and for its current discrimination against Muslims, it should be regarded as a pariah state.

Last week, French President Emanuel Macron responded to the attacks in Paris and Nice by claiming in a tweet that “secularism has never killed anyone.” So I thought I’d put his claim to the test.

But before doing that, it is important to clarify something. Killing is bad enough; killing elderly people engaged in places of worship is particularly depraved and prohibited in Islam.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) expressly told his companions en route to battle: “do not kill any old person”, “do not kill women” and “leave alone” those who “devoted their lives to monastic worship.”

The attacks in Nice, allegedly carried out by a Tunisian last week, violated all three injunctions. And the streets of Europe are no battlefield.

These instructions of the Prophet (pbuh) were repeated when Abu Bakr (ra) became the first caliph of Islam and were implemented even as the fledgling state took on the mighty powers of Byzantium and Persia. The early Muslims believed that victory on the field and success in the Hereafter were dependent on following the instructions laid down in the Quran and enacted by the Messenger of Allah (pbuh).

The early Muslims endured 15 years of boycotts, looting, imprisonment, torture, murder and expulsion from their homes following the birth of Islam before finally receiving Divine permission to defend themselves. These immense trials, however, had prepared them for the gargantuan task ahead. The more Makkan pagans attacked the Noble Prophet (pbuh)  and his people, the stronger in faith and perseverance they became. They were finally prepared.

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أُذِنَ لِلَّذِينَ يُقَٰتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمْ ظُلِمُوا۟ ۚ وَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ نَصْرِهِمْ لَقَدِيرٌ

“Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allāh is competent to give them victory.” [Al Hajj:39]

The next verse acknowledges the reasons behind their persecution:

ٱلَّذِينَ أُخْرِجُوا۟ مِن دِيَٰرِهِم بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ إِلَّآ أَن يَقُولُوا۟ رَبُّنَا ٱللهُ ۗ

[They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is Allāh.”

But, even as they were about to shed their blood in most decisive battle in the history of Islam, the Muslims were reminded about the sanctity of places of all worship where Allah is praised:

وَلَوْلَا دَفْعُ ٱللَّهِ ٱلنَّاسَ بَعْضَهُم بِبَعْضٍ لَّهُدِّمَتْ صَوَٰمِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَصَلَوَٰتٌ وَمَسَٰجِدُ يُذْكَرُ فِيهَا ٱسْمُ ٱللَّهِ كَثِيرًا ۗ وَلَيَنصُرَنَّ ٱللَّهُ مَن يَنصُرُهُۥٓ ۗ إِنَّ ٱللهَ لَقَوِىٌّ عَزِيزٌ

And were it not that Allāh checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allāh is much mentioned [i.e., praised]. And Allāh will surely support those who support Him [His cause]. Indeed, Allāh is Powerful and Exalted in Might. [Al Hajj:40]

The Quran also warns believers not to curse even those who commit the greatest sin according to Islam – associating partners with Allah.

وَلَا تَسُبُّوا۟ ٱلَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا۟ ٱللَّهَ عَدْوًۢا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ

“And do not insult those who invoke other than Allāh, lest they insult Allāh in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.” [Al An’am:108]

France’s founders knew better than Macron

It is in the light of this Islamic belief that the actions and words of the French president seem deeply uncultured and bitterly unsophisticated. One simple verse from the Quran dismantles modern France’s inability to grasp this basic yet ancient concept.

Macron defended the right to insult the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in the wake of the attacks and managed to earn an unprecedented and unified response from the Muslim world condemning his stance – culminating in a mass boycott of France by Muslim nations.

But it wasn’t just Muslims who saw the folly of Macron’s position. The Canadian Prime Minister, himself of French descent, responded to the turmoil in France, saying: “But freedom of expression is not without limits. We owe it to ourselves to act with respect for others and to seek not to arbitrarily or unnecessarily injure those with whom we are sharing a society and a planet.”

Instead of defending attacks against him, several of the founders of modern France actually praised the Prophet (pbuh).

For example, Voltaire, French philosopher of the “Enlightenment” and free speech advocate, may not have believed him to be sent by God but he praised the Messenger of Allah as an “effective, tolerant and successful leader.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, another key influencer of the French Revolution wrote in his seminal work, The Social Contract, that the Messenger of Allah was “neither an imposter nor a sorcerer, but an admirable legislator who successfully combined spiritual and worldly power.”

Alphonso de Lamartine, the liberal statesman who helped make the decision to keep the French tricolour flag, said: “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad?”

The most infamous but equally celebrated of all French leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte, wrote incarcerated as prisoner the island of St. Helena: “Muhammad was a prince; he rallied his compatriots around him. In a few years, his Muslims conquered half the world. They plucked more souls from the false gods, knocked down more idols, razed more pagan temples in fifteen years, than the followers of Moses and Jesus Christ did in fifteen centuries. Muhammad was a great man.”

Perhaps the “Armed Soldier of Democracy” as he sometimes called himself, realised as a captive what he couldn’t as the Emperor of France – The Messenger of Allah conquered the hearts of men and women before he stormed the fortresses of their oppressors.

Terrorism is literally French

In today’s world, its hard to imagine a time when Islam and Muslims weren’t assosicated with terrorism in the Europe. But terrorism, as we know it today, comes from France.

In 1789, when the masses rose up against the French ruling classes and aristocracy it may have ended with the establishment of the First Republic but it began with the French Revolution and the “Reign of Terror” or simply “The Terror.”

The convulsions caused by it impacted neighbouring countries, including Britain, where movements that sought French-style reforms were seen as a threat. The celebrated British parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, described the new French Republic as: “Thousands of those hell-hounds called terrorists, whom they had shut up in prison on their last revolution, as the satellites of tyranny, are let loose on the people.” That’s how the word “terrorism” entered the English language.

From the start of the French Revolution until 1794 almost 17,000 people were executed by revolutionaries led by Maximilien Robespierre. They used a machine created specifically for the task because it was “more humane” than previous execution methods. The targets may have been the bourgeoisie but 40,000 were killed in all.

Robespierre firmly believed in the use of terror to establish democracy and in his Republic of Virtue he said: “Subdue by terror the enemies of liberty and you will be right, as founders of the Republic.”

Robespierre’s motto, “Unity, indivisibility of the Republic; liberty, equality or death” was later adapted as “liberty, equality and fraternity”. France’s ideals, its democracy, its modern history was literally born out of head-chopping and terrorism.

French obsession with beheading

The French obsession with head-chopping, however, wasn’t just limited to the homeland.

In 1920, the charismatic Moroccan leader, Abdelkrim El-Khattabi, led a highly effective guerilla jihad against the Spanish army of occupation during the Rif War. 30,000 Rifian fighters routed a Spanish force of 60,000, killing 18,000 of them. Fearing the defeat of a colonial force in North Africa would destabilise their own claim on Algeria, France joined Spain against El-Khattabi.

A quarter of a million French and Spanish troops eventually subdued the Rif fighters but not before carrying out acts of depravity. While the Spanish dropped thousands of mustard gas bombs on Moroccan market places and rivers, French legionnaires revelled in photos of themselves holding heads of beheaded Moroccan prisoners. A French postage stamp from 1922 unbelievably bears an image of heads of decapitated Moroccan fighters.

In 1930, French colonial forces beheaded numerous members of Vietnamese resistance movement, Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang. The Museum of American War Crimes in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, still displays a guillotine that was used by the French to decapitate them.

In 1954, French colonialism in Vietnam ended after their catastrophic defeat at the hands of Vietnamese forces at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Their leader, Ho Chi Minh, had studied El-Khattabi’s tactics. That same year, Algeria also began its fight for independence from French rule. France responded with its signature brutality.

Algeria was colonised by France from 1836 to 1962. The Algerians fiercely resisted the French occupation and lost over 1.5 million souls in the process. Once again, French civilisation was accompanied by its executioner of choice –  the guillotine.

France beheaded thousands and kept their severed heads as trophies. In July this year, it returned 24 of them for burial in Algeria. But, there are still 18,000 skulls from across the globe kept as trophies sitting in French museums. It is hard to think of anywhere in the world, let alone a purportedly civilised western nation, that could get away with this macabre penchant for heads.

Some may argue that it was all a long time ago, until you scratch the surface. Former French president François Mitterrand (who served from 1981-1995), ordered the execution of 45 Algerians when he was Justice Minister during the Algerian independence war. Once again, it was the guillotine that took their heads.

Fernand Meyssonnier was believed to have been France’s last executioner. A die hard colonialist who openly despised “blacks and Arabs,” Meyssonnier was the last in a line of executioners that stretched back generations. He was responsible for beheading 200 prisoners, almost all of them Algerian Muslims.

Before his death in 2008, Meysonnier described how he knew the prisoners he was killing were fighting for independence. He also described how, on occasion, he would use a knife to sever the partially attached head of a prisoner if it wasn’t decapitated in the first instance.

But the last executioner in France before the death penalty was finally abolished, ironically under Mitterand, was Marcel Chevalier. And, the last person to be executed, again by decapitation, was Tunisian, Hamida Djandoubi.

France: Modern Europe’s worst offender

Secularism has been responsible for the largest numbers of deaths in human history. The reality of two World Wars and nuclear weapons proves that.

France was deeply involved in the former and maintains stockpiles of the latter. In fact, its track record proves how France is the very worst offender of all the former colonial powers, since it butchered millions in the name of virtue.

In light of its past crimes against humanity and current discrimination against Muslims, France should be prosecuted as a perpetrator of international war crimes and apologise for all that it has done, past and present.

Until then France should be regarded as a pariah state.

Moazzam Begg is the Director of Outreach at CAGE. He is also an author, ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner, War on Terror consultant and an advocate for the rights of those held unjustly. 

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