Paris (CNSNews.com) – Jihadists interviewed in French prisons came across as sane, hostile towards French-style secularism, and motivated by their understanding of the Islamic religion, according to two political researchers here.
Bilel Ainine and Xavier Crettiez have just released a book, “Soldiers of God: Words of Incarcerated Jihadists,” in which they try to explain how and why young French citizens have embraced terrorism.
With the permission of the ministry of justice they interviewed in prison 13 convicted terrorists, all men aged between 23 and 30 years.
During a debate organized at the book’s recent presentation, they said that speaking to the convicted men helped them to understand what drove them towards violence.
Ainine and Crettiez said their first observation was that, contrary to some public opinion, the jihadists are not deranged, but fully conscious of what they have done, viewing themselves as warriors.
Also, they perceive France, their country, as an effeminate nation in moral decline, where they find it impossible to live any more. In order to become “real Muslims” they took up weapons in what they regard as a war against France.
“If a Muslim really wants to live his faith well, he cannot live with the Westerners,” said Fahim, one of the interviewees. He noted that France has recognized same-sex marriage, “whereas in Islam it is prohibited.”
For the interviewed convicts, secularism represents a cultural and ideological war against Islam in France, the researchers said. Any compromise with the West and its consumerist values is impossible.
All of the jihadists had studied Islam, which was important to them.
“They are people who, in this complex world, had many questions and who needed answers,” Ainine said during the presentation. “But our interviewees needed a united, absolute truth. They often found it in religion.”
While most are not fluent in Arabic, they studied Islam themselves, using the Internet and online videos.
The researchers said they were struck by the strong link between religion and politics.
“This is the specificity of this radicalization,” said Crettiez. “They are very ideologically structured people, who develop a very political speech and fight for a cause that goes beyond them. They believe that democracy is not good and oppose it with their own model, the caliphate.”
All of the men interviewed had traveled to the Middle East, including to Iraq and Syria. They had heard about problems faced by Muslims in some parts of the world, for instance at the hands of security forces in countries like Egypt, Sudan and Yemen, and for that reason rejected the legitimacy of authorities, even in Islamic countries.
“That is what led them to learn the religion by themselves without any external help,” said Crettiez.
Ainine added that the men displayed mixed feelings for France, showing respect for its institutions but rejecting the country because of a feeling of being stigmatized.
“I have no desire to kill or any hatred for France, but I will be forced to do it when I leave prison because Allah wants it,” one of them told the researchers.
The 13 detainees expressed a fascination for the two most prominent Islamist terrorist groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda.
But they seemed especially attracted to ISIS which, unlike al-Qaeda, had managed to seize and administer a territory.
The two researchers wrote to 50 prisoners and received 30 replies – which included some insulting responses. They were finally able to interview 13, a smaller number than they had hoped.
They conceded that the number of people interviewed was too small to draw definitive conclusions, but they said the interviews contained in the book helped to provide an understanding of how such men see the world.
Of note was their expressed desire to live under an Islamic system, in a place where they felt a link had been established between the religious text and the requirement of violence against disbelievers and renegades.
The book’s release comes at a time when France’s lower house of parliament is debating new laws against terrorism.
If enacted, they will replace from November 1 the state of emergency that has been in place since November 2015, following terrorist attacks in Paris and other cities.