5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih interviewed Idriss Sihamedi, who is the head of France’s biggest Muslim charity BarakaCity, which will most probably be permanently shut down by the French state in a few weeks time.
Sihamedi said that the decision to shut down BarakaCity has already been taken by the French president and the current judicial process is a farce. He added that France’s racism towards Muslims is akin to the treatment of blacks in 1960s America.
Roshan Muhammed Salih: What is the latest on BarakaCity’s case?
Idriss Sihamedi: BarakaCity had a hearing at the Conseil d’Etat last Friday to go over the whole case against us which was put forward by the Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin. The Interior Ministry wants to dissolve BarakaCity for inciting hatred.
The Conseil d’Etat is one of the highest courts in France which deals with civil cases between the state and civilians. We believe the French state has taken this route because they know they would lose in a normal judicial court where the case would be properly tested.
We were only given 15 minutes to make our case on Friday which wasn’t enough of course. One of the accusations is that we had a donor in 2012 who went on to commit terrorist attacks in France. We have 400,000 donors so it’s impossible to check out every single one of them. This guy was radicalised in 2015 and went on to commit his attacks in that year. One of our other donors was actually one of his victims.
You must understand that we are in a toxic atmosphere in France where Muslims are constantly targeted. You can see the witch-hunt against the mosques and imams and even Muslim schools in France. And we are also the victims of terrorism – if you remember the Nice attack in 2016, the first person that was run over by the truck was a Muslim.
In our view, this is all about the French state getting revenge for the murder of the teacher Samuel Paty in Paris last year. But BarakaCity had no connection with that.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the ex president of France, welcomed Amedy Coulibaly, one of the biggest perpetrators of attacks in France, to the Presidential Palace in 2009. And while he was in prison the TV channel France 2 paid him €50,000 for a report they did. So I’m going to ask you a very important question – what money did Coulibaly use to buy his weapons? So you see the logic they use against us is completely absurd and they don’t apply the same logic to themselves.
The decision to dissolve BarakaCity, which is inevitable, is clearly a political decision. This decision has not been taken by the Interior Minister but by the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron himself. Gerald Darmanin is just implementing the decision.
But I believe the dissolution will be one of the biggest victories for BarackCity. We will finally have the biggest proof that we were subject to a miscarriage of justice, and that we were victims of the French state.
RMS: What will be the consequences for your beneficiaries if BarakaCity is dissolved?
IS: The consequences of this dissolution for poor people around the world are serious and dramatic. We have two million beneficiaries. Just imagine we used to provide two million litres of water a day but no more.
One of our most prominent beneficiaries was a brother who was released from Guantanamo Bay, Lotfi Bin Ali, who was exiled in Kazakhstan and after that in Mauritania. He was very sick and needed a pacemaker. We were giving him humanitarian assistance in Mauritania and we had a surgical operation planned for him in Tunisia. He was sending me messages saying that the pacemaker wasn’t working anymore and that he could die at any moment and was in a very serious situation.
So we made all the arrangements so that he could have this operation in Tunisia but France blocked the funds. So the operation was cancelled and the other day I learnt that Lotfi had died. And he died because of France; France killed him as they are killing so many other of our beneficiaries..
There is even a law in France which says that a humanitarian association cannot be shut down if there is an emergency. Now we have millions of people who rely on us so if that isn’t an emergency I don’t know what is. But the authorities are just completely indifferent to this.
We could have given our money to the Red Cross to continue our work but they didn’t even allow that. These people are completely indifferent to the plight of needy people around the world. So we can’t help anybody anymore and so many beneficiaries have left messages with me and they’re literally crying on the phone.
RMS: What does the future hold for BarakaCity and for Muslims in France?
IS: After BarakaCity is dissolved we will continue to fight on all fronts. We have to create more humanitarian associations like BarakaCity to continue our humanitarian work. We are present in Turkey and we are going through an administrative procedure which is taking a bit of time. We are also here in England but it’s a little bit complicated with the Charity Commission. And we are we looking for branches in places like Kuwait and Malaysia so that we can distribute aid.
But I think the struggle in the future will be mainly a media struggle – we need to find a solution to have a media alternative so that we can express ourselves freely and so that we can organise. We’re going to continue to fight till the end until we are victorious.
As for Muslims in France, they are tired and exhausted. Psychologically they’re being tortured. It’s open season on Muslims in the French media – they’re being treated like black people were treated in the 1960s in America.
France has decided to target community leaders and has put every kind of pressure imaginable on people who want to defend Muslims. The message to French Muslims is: We are going to colonise your religion and Islam in France will be controlled by the Interior Ministry using compliant institutions such as the Paris Mosque and the French Council for Muslim Worship.
We are currently making alliances with the Muslims of England who are much more active and are freer than us and have more room to act. And we’re hoping that our brothers in England can highlight what’s happening to Muslims in France.
But I think things are going to become very complicated for France and eventually they will have to change course. It will become obvious that they are treating Muslims like the blacks in 1960s America and that they are being racist and Islamophobic.
The final decision by the Conseil d’Etat on whether to shut down BarakaCity, as well as the Collective against Islamophobia in France, is due in a few weeks.