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French imam recounts death threats from Islamists for asking to respect Holocaust

In emotional TV interview, Hassen Chalghoumi says his family has been assaulted, harassed for years over his interfaith work

Hassen Chalghoumi speaks during an interview with France 2 TV, on January 13, 2022. (Screenshot/MEMRI)
Hassen Chalghoumi speaks during an interview with France 2 TV, on January 13, 2022. (Screenshot/MEMRI)

A French imam known for his involvement in interfaith initiatives said he and his family have been living under threat from Islamists for years, emotionally recalling the toll the assaults and harassment have taken.

In an interview with France 2 TV this month, Hassen Chalghoumi said he first started receiving death threats in 2005, after calling for commemorations of the Holocaust to be respected.

“I made a solemn appeal to respect the memory of the Holocaust, to also think about what people did to their fellow human beings, the consequences of racism, hatred, antisemitism… But unfortunately, my words were misunderstood. Two days later, they ransacked my house,” he said, according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

“I started to receive death threats in the name of a cause that has nothing to do with [my words] — the Palestinian cause, in the name of an ideology of hatred, perhaps against Israeli policy, or out of actual antisemitism,” Chalghoumi continued. “And then I received anonymous calls and letters. In 2009, they torched my car, and they attacked my house.”

Many of the death threats Chalghoumi has received have been over his friendly ties with CRIF, the umbrella group representing French Jewish communities, and for visiting Israel several times.

During a tour of the West Bank with settler leaders in 2019, Chalghoumi said support of boycotts of Israel ran against Quranic law, and that he hopes to encourage dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians so “no mother — not Israeli nor Palestinian — will cry” in the future.

Chalghoumi is something of an outlier in Muslim religious discourse, and was notable for supporting France’s ban on the burqa, or full face-covering.

Despite the threats, Chalghoumi said his wife encouraged him to continue speaking out.

He was asked if he had considered stopping to protect his family.

“No, although the consequences have reached my home. I cannot say that all this remains outside my home, because it doesn’t. The Internet, social media, the threats. They assaulted my wife in a market. They spat on her. They even asked her to divorce me,” he said.

The Imam of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi (left), writer Marek Halter (right) and others prepare to take part in The Muslim March Against Terrorism in Paris, on July 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Francois Guillot)

Chalghoumi said his children were harassed at school and that “it became difficult” to go to movies and restaurants with them.

“At some point, everything changed and there was no longer such a thing as daily life,” he said.

Chalghoumi blamed the head of a pro-Hamas group in France for some of the threats and said several terror groups have issued religious edicts calling for his death.

“In 2015, I had the Islamic State [against me]… In Syria, too, they issued a fatwa against me. Hezbollah, too, and Hamas. All those small groups don’t believe in light. You should know that the words of a moderate man of faith is a source of trouble for them. That’s why they issued a fatwa against me,” he said.

The imam said he attends the mosque at different times of day to make it harder for a would-be attacker to trail him, and that he also wears a bulletproof vest to protect against knives.

“There are 3,000 or 4,000 worshipers at the mosque, I can’t control everything,” he said.

“But we cannot know for sure — among the crowd, there might be someone like [terrorists Mohammed] Merah, like the Kouachi [brothers], or like [Amedy] Coulibaly,” he added, naming several French terrorists.

Chalghoumi then began to choke up as he told the interviewer that his wife and children no longer use his last name.

“They have another name. We are still human beings… One of my daughters was assaulted. She has gained 30 kilograms,” an emotional Chalghoumi recalled. “We are strong inside, we will never give up. But when it affects my family, it becomes difficult.”

From left to right: Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan and Sheikh Abu-Khalil Tamimi in the West Bank, on June 13, 2019. (Courtesy: Samaria Regional Council)

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