In the wake of the beheading of French school-teacher Samuel Paty, US media is reporting that France is increasingly concerned about the influence of Turkish Islamists on the country’s Turkish population. According to a Bloomberg report, this influence is channeled through nationalist groups, religion, and the teaching of the Turkish language:
The primary driver of Turkey’s outreach is Diyanet, or Religious Affairs Directorate, which Erdogan has expanded significantly since his AK Party took power in 2002. It pays the salaries of about 150 of the Turkish imams in France, or half of the total number of foreign imams in the country , according to the French government.
The report goes on to say cite as an example of religious influence a mosque being built in the French city of Strasbourg, located close to the border of Germany where Turkish influence on its diaspora is the strongest:
The land on which the Eyyub Sultan mosque is being built was purchased by the Islamic Community of Milli Gorus. The project is funded by believers, members from across Europe and also by Christians, according to its imam, Eyup Sahin, the local leader of Milli Gorus. To the north lies a new Turkish consulate building, and to the west sits a branch of Ditib, the Germany-based arm of the Diyanet. It manages 270 mosques in France. Ditib was set up in the 1980s to serve Turkish immigrants when Ankara still championed secularism, while Milli Gorus traces its roots back to the 1960s to foster the political Islam that Erdogan now supports. Both now represent a conservative interpretation of Islam, and have been seeking to cater to all Muslims, not just the Turkish community, said Massicard at Sciences Po. For years, France has regarded the two organizations as key partners on matters of faith and integration. Events more recently led the authorities to monitor activities, according to people familiar with the situation.Sahin said Milli Gorus has no ties to Erdogan or his AK Party. He said he’s in touch with local intelligence officers and has spoken out against violence and threats in the name of Islam. Sahin manages a training center for imams and said it’s important preachers understand French culture and are able to speak the language.
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As the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) recently reported, the German government is asserting that Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has intensified its relations with Millî Görüş in Germany.
The Bloomberg article is also reporting that French authorities are concerned that Turkish classes funded by Turkey allow Erdogan to spread influence.” The GIOR recently reported on Turkish-German Associations protesting Turkish language classes being taught in DITIB mosques by DITIB imams.
The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, known in Turkish as the Diyanet İşleri Türk-İslam Birliği (DITIB), is the French branch of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs or Diyanet. Much like the DITIB branch in Germany, the French branch pays the salaries of imams, many of which do not speak French. Earlier this year, France closed the Diyanet’s bank accounts in France. Simultaneously, French President Macron announced he was ending a program that allowed other countries to send cultural and language teachers, including imams, to teach in France without interference with French authorities. Turkey has not agreed to a new program that would give French authorities control over courses and content, with Macron stating that he wishes to prevent Turkey from feeding “a cultural, religious or identity-related separatism on our Republic’s ground.”