By Milena Uhlmann, ICSR Associate Fellow
While presenting the French government’s Action Plan Against Radicalisation and Terrorism on May 9, Prime Minister Manuel Valls once again underlined the government’s intention to create a number of “centres of reintegration and citizenship” – one in each of the twelve French regions.
These centres, which were previously referred to by government officials as “de-radicalisation centres”, are understood to be flagship projects of the French government’s CVE efforts.
First centre to open by September
The Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Prevention of Crime and Radicalisation (CIPD-R) has conceptualised the centres. Its secretary general, Pierre N’Gahane, has indicated that they are not intended for people returning from Syria/Iraq, but for “weak-willed volunteers”, largely youngsters already monitored as vulnerable to radicalisation.
The first centre is set to open before September 2016, though its launch has been repeatedly postponed since autumn 2015. It has been designed for around 30 individuals who will stay there for approximately ten months, with the option of signing up to a two-month internship outside the camp as part of the programme. The participants will be able to leave the centre over the weekends and stay at their family home, as long as their next of kin haven’t played a role in their radicalisation.
The programme consists of two parallel efforts: “de-indoctrination” and vocational training. The former will involve treatment by psychologists/psychiatrists; “dialogue groups” on geopolitics, religion, etc.; and “separation work” to distance the person in question from radical influences.
These “centres of reintegration and citizenship” will emulate an existing French initiative for at-risk youth, implemented by the “Etablissement public d’insertion de la défense” (EPIDE). This programme aims to help young people who dropped out of school or are at risk doing so, and who possess neither vocational qualifications nor other job prospects. Emulating the EPIDE model, daily life in the “centres of reintegration and citizenship” will be based on military discipline; for instance, participants will wear uniforms, salute the flag, and sing the Marseillaise.
Stressing “military discipline”
A second centre is also set to open later this year. It will be directed at individuals who left France for conflict zones, such as Syria, but who are not known to have joined a jihadist group. Participation in the programme will be offered as an alternative to detention.
When the potential location of the first centre was leaked in March, the shocked mayor of that village apparently found out from the media. Around 26 people will reportedly take care of the youngsters in each centre. Running the centres will cost about one million euro on average per year.
N’Gahane says the centres will first deconstruct and counter jihadism’s ideological discourse, a task that will be “largely outsourced” to specialized associations which “are themselves still struggling a little, as has to be admitted”. Once they have successfully countered the ideology, they will enter a “therapeutic phase” that deals with any grave problems they have, including dropping-out of school/work, and those suffering from mental illness will be referred to apsychiatric clinic.
During a panel discussion on de-radicalisation hosted by the German Embassy in Paris on May 18, N’Gahane described his rationale as follows: uniforms will be worn to avoid participants dressing up, for example in a djellaba, while attending the programme. He also argued that because military discipline yielded successful results for EPIDE, it will also be helpful in re-integrating radicalised individuals into the République, ignoring the differences between their respective target groups.
According to N’Gahane, the people for whom the programme is designed should be grateful that the République is offering them an “extended hand” in the form of this programme, implying that those who do not comply will face the wrath of the state.
Approach criticised as “authoritarian”
Claudia Dantschke, who possesses substantial experience in practical de-radicalisation as head of the office on de-radicalisation at Hayat Germany in Berlin, heavily criticised this approach as authoritarian. She argues that both salafism and jihadism base their attractiveness to young people on uniformity; in her view, the centres would instead reinforce extremist mind-sets than counter them, producing the IS recruits of tomorrow.