In November 2005, the French banlieues (suburbs) erupted in violence. While most analysts insist that the violence was not Islamist in nature, the vast majority of the rioters were young Muslims rebelling against the state. They torched cars, destroyed private property, clashed with police, and, in one case, even killed a bystander. France’s ruling elite was shaken to its core.
Even if Islamists were not directly involved in this sudden outburst of violence, their efforts to demonize the state had influenced at least a portion of Muslim youth. Indeed, European branches of global Islamist organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Tablighi Jamaat, have successfully alienated young Muslims from the state using an array of cultural weapons.
In 2004, two clandestine Islamist pre-schools in the suburbs of Paris were shuttered by French authorities. They were run by Salafists who were teaching four-year-old children how to read and write Arabic, as well as the vitriolic Salafist version of the Quran. They were also teaching these children that as Muslims, they were to demand to be treated differently than other French people.
This is unfortunately far from an isolated phenomenon. Jean-Pierre Obin, the top French national education official, issued a 2004 report documenting the fact that Muslim students often described their nationality as “Muslim.” When told that “Muslim” is not a nationality and they are French, some children insisted that they couldn’t be French since they are Muslim. In some cases, students were taught to believe that their secular teachers were “liars.” Obin believed that these disturbing instances were the result of indoctrination by several Islamist organizations—primarily the Muslim Brotherhood—that denounce “integration as an oppression.” They seek to take these Muslims out of the French nation and bring them instead to the “Muslim nation,” even if they live on French soil.
As children grow older, their Islamist indoctrination extends well beyond the classroom. Thanks to Muslim Brotherhood-linked organizations including the Union Des Organizations Islamiques De France (UOIF) and the Jeunes Musulmans De France (JMF), they are taught a new set of rules of what is halal (allowed) and what is haram (forbidden). For instance, teenage girls are forbidden to play sports. Teenage girls are sometimes watched by informal religious monitors. These monitors are usually young men, or even the girls’ younger brothers. Young Muslim women are forbidden to wear makeup, skirts, and form-fitting dresses. Instead, they are encouraged to wear dark, loose-fitting trousers. To go to the blackboard in front of a class, some Muslim girls put on long coats to hide their bodies from the gaze of male students. According to the Obin report, they are strongly encouraged, if not forced, to wear the headscarf (hijab), and are forbidden to frequent coed movie theaters, community centers, and gyms, or even to go out on weekends.
Muslim youth under the sway of Islamist organizations are also encouraged to boycott any product that was made in Israel, or companies that are perceived as supporting the Jewish state, such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.
Alternative Islamist Products
The Islamists are not only encouraging economic boycotts; they are putting money back in their pockets through popular Islamic products. For example, the veiled version of the Barbie doll, Razanne, is now wildly popular among young Muslim girls. The very concept of this doll integrates Western consumerism with Islamist ideals, while taking money that would have otherwise been destined for an American corporation: Mattel.
Islamists are also producing music for Islamist teenagers. Several Muslim rappers, for example, have gained a following or even fame by performing music and recording for the Islamist cause. For instance, D.J. Had (pronounced jihad) sings: “The time of the revenge is now/Osama is going to strike again/He is going to tilt the scales/by blowing up France.” The band Kamikaze sings: “Osama fights the war in the name of Allah/ All with Osama/ On the Catholics, there is the fatwa.”
The Islamists are surfing on the new trends of fashion favored by young Muslims of the suburbs, commonly described as streetwear or urbanwear (including fashionable caps and flashy colored tracksuits). The cunning behind the Islamist fashion strategy is that it is a booming business in France, and in most cases, these products bare no exterior signs of Islamism. Brands such as Belgium-based Himaya, for example, use logos of an Islamic inspiration rather than obvious Islamic inscriptions. But the teenager knows that he is helping Islamist-owned businesses and still does not have to sacrifice Western style to express an anti-Western worldview.
Teenagers are also donning a line of clothing that appeals to their Islamist leanings, not unlike clothing linked to Los Angeles gangs in the U.S. One clothing line features sweaters with the inscription “Mujahedeens,” representing support for jihadists and expressing a sense of identification with the larger Islamist movement.
The Renseignements Généraux (RG), a unit of the French police, is increasingly alarmed over Islamist-owned clothing manufacturing and retail shops. According to one 2005 report, the RG investigated two famous sportswear brands (their names were not released to protect the RG’s equities in the operation) launched less than two years ago, with current sales exceeding one million Euros (about $1.45 million). The executives of these companies are linked to Salafist movements, making the companies a major source of concern.
The RG noted that this trend in Islamist-owned retailing is expected to rise in the coming years. Indeed, retail is a cash-heavy business that is perfectly legal. Moreover, retail is quite innocuous compared to traditional Islamist businesses such as Islamist bookshops (selling, for instance, anti-Semitic books). It is tougher for authorities to prove that a clothing store is raising money for Islamist causes.
Perhaps the most compelling story coming out of the Islamist consumer counterculture in Europe is the meteoric success of the Islamic soft drink, Mecca-Cola. Launched in France in 2002 by Tawfic Mathlouthi, the owner of Radio-Méditerrannée, a Muslim radio station known for its virulent anti-Semitic programs, Mecca-Cola wants to be “a militant product of boycott of American imperialism and Zionism.” The company’s motto is: “Shake your conscience. Drink with commitment.”
Mecca-Cola’s website describes the company as one that produces an Islamic product, fights the West, and comes to the aid of the “oppressed.” The following is from the site:
“The spirit which governed the creation of Mecca-Cola was to create a profit-making business which would help to relieve human suffering where action is still possible. The most intolerable and the most immediate suffering is that of the Palestinian people.
“The Palestinian people are experiencing indifference and general complicity, these being the most wretched and the most contemptible acts of apartheid and Zionist fascism. But, as we are profoundly Moslem in spirit and in training, we can only adhere to our precepts, namely, give back the good that we have received in greater measure, but also spread good around oneself.”
Mecca-Cola’s powerful message appeals to Europe’s disaffected youth. The company calls upon youngsters to become aware of injustices against the Muslim world. If the consumers are not ready to take up arms, they can at least finance the cause by purchasing Islamic products that replace Western ones. Mecca-Cola pledges 10 percent of its profits to Palestinian charities.
An Unanswered Threat
The Islamists of Europe have realized that there will always be young Muslims who are not ready to fully embrace the ideology of Islamism. To win their hearts and minds, Islamists have launched a cottage industry that appeals to their Western target audience. This strategy has already paid dividends. Islamists are indoctrinating the growing Muslim population in Europe while also financing their cause. Unfortunately, with the exception of France, Europe has little understanding of this new financial spearhead that Islamists are using to gain influence. Even in the case of France, little has been done to halt this new initiative.
Olivier Guitta is a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant in Washington, D.C., and the founder of the newsletter The Croissant (www.thecroissant.com).