The detention facility in southern Iraq maintained by the US military and known as Camp Bucca was a hotbed of insurgency. France has not learned the lesson that it’s not a good idea to put disgruntled people in the same place.
In “How the Islamic State evolved in an American prison” (The Washington Post, 4 November 2014), Terrence McCoy wrote:
“The camp now represents an opening chapter in the history of the Islamic State – many of its leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were incarcerated and probably met there. According to former prison commanders, analysts and soldiers, Camp Bucca provided a unique setting for both prisoner radicalization and inmate collaboration – and was formative in the development of today’s most potent jihadist force.”
Recently, France announced that it is setting up something similar – admittedly not along the lines of Camp Bucca or the more notorious Abu Ghraib, but nevertheless worrying. The country’s first centre aimed at “deradicalizing” young people is due to open in mid-2016 – although not if concerned locals can prevent it.
The centre will be located in the sleepy commune of Beaumont-en-Véron in the department of Indre et Loire. It will be a kind of boarding school for radicalized French youth aged 18 to 30. The French government has euphemistically described it as a place for “reintegration and citizenship”.
The centre will accommodate up to 30 people for a ten-month stay, with the possibility of undertaking internships with nearby companies. Participants will sign up on a voluntary basis (so youth who wish to remain radicalized need not apply) and they will have to wear a uniform. However, the government has made it clear that they will not be kept as prisoners and can return home at weekends (where they can, presumably, revert to radical thinking).
The centre was thought up in the context of hundreds of radicalized young people who have left France to fight in the Middle East, with the French authorities increasingly concerned about those who return home.
It is not clear how this scheme will work and it seems to fly in the face of the European Union’s Erasmus+ project which seeks to address issues of social inclusion and good citizenship through education, sports, and youth action.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks in France and Denmark in early 2015, the European Union committed to work towards ensuring that children and young people acquire social, civic and cultural competences and towards enhancing their critical thinking, particularly when using the Internet. After the attacks in Paris later that same year, EU officials again stressed the central role that education, youth policy, culture and sport must play in tackling radicalization.
Ominously, youth are not alone in needing training. A leaked memo has revealed that between 2012 and 2015 there were 17 cases of police officers in Paris behaving or acting in ways that were of concern to their superiors. One third of the cases involved women and four of them were officers who had converted to Islam. None of the cases involved high-ranking officers. Is this merely an aberration or the tip of the iceberg?
Whether the centre for “reintegration and citizenship” will work is open to question. Maajid Nawaz, co-founder and chairman of the counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, is clear. In an ABC News interview (25 January 2016) he said, “I believe that preventing radicalization is far more efficient than de-radicalization, meaning stopping someone joining is a lot easier than trying to pull someone out once they’ve joined.”
Maybe the French need to think again.