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The Center for Critical Democracy Studies

CCDS Event Explores Democracy and Deradicalization in France

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On Friday, January 28, 2022, Demos21, a series of lectures, roundtables and workshops organized by AUP’s Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS), hosted guest speaker Muriel Domenach, Permanent Representative of the French Delegation to NATO. Ambassador Domenach led a discussion about her work with the Interagency Committee for the Prevention of Crime and Radicalization and her time serving as the Consul General of France in Istanbul. 

Ambassador Domenach began her talk by asking where audience members were located and for them to consider their relationship to France. Throughout her talk, she returned to the relationship France has to its processes of deradicalization and the collective trauma experienced by the country in the aftermath of the multiple terror attacks that took place in Paris throughout 2015. In particular, she highlighted the 2016 attack on a priest in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, which was carried out by teenagers, one of whom was being monitored as potentially radicalized. The context of this attack, which occurred in a small village, in her view brought home the senselessness of these violent acts as well as the policy failures of the deradicalization efforts happening at that time. 

The ambassador traced the origins of the contemporary moment of radicalization in France to the attack in Toulouse in 2012, before expounding upon elements of Daesh that enabled the capacity for massive attacks. The caliphate was defined by the “3 C’s” – community, command and control – which were instrumental to its activity. Domenach was careful to emphasize that radicalization should not be neatly ascribed to a singular policy or attitude, such as aggressive secularism or proximity to American interests, but rather understood within a rich and complex social fabric. In illustrating her points, she referred to her experiences when stationed in Turkey. During her tenure, 2,000 young people left France for Syria. It was often the case that many arrived in Istanbul in a single day. Her office received calls from parents and was sometimes able to intercept individuals upon their arrival in Turkey. 

She emphasized the importance of moving beyond single-factor theories and linear narratives of deradicalization, arguing one cannot “walk backwards” in the process of deradicalization, thereby returning a young person to their prior state. She set out a tiered prevention effort strategy which addressed root causes of radicalization as well as the disengagement of radicalized individuals. At the primary stage, she noted the importance of education, shielding and interventions into internet usage for the general population. At the secondary stage, wherein an individual might be identified as vulnerable, she argued that it is important to engage social elements, such as state actors or religious leaders, who are embedded in the community. Finally, the tertiary stage includes disengagement policies directed at those who have already been radicalized. 

Domenach closed with some data collected by her office while she was stationed in Turkey. There were certain predictable trends that emerged, such as socio-economic hardships faced by the families of the young people, as well as interpersonal family conflicts. Her office also recorded a high number of converts, particularly young women, who had experienced sustained abuse as children. Throughout, she emphasized the importance of a holistic perspective in addressing radicalization. Several of her points recalled the work of Dr. Marc Hecker, who spoke at a previous Demos21 event, in noting that public perception remains hugely important in responding to radicalization.