French court lifts Muslim teenager’s travel ban, national tensions laid bare

PARIS: A Muslim convert on Tuesday won a court order lifting a travel ban that she says was imposed because of her ultra-conservative Salafist beliefs, in a case that has exposed deep-seated tensions between secular France and its Muslim community.


The 19-year-old, who was raised as a Catholic, converted to Islam two years ago and said she had wanted to travel to Saudi Arabia to study before her mother alerted the authorities, suspecting her daughter had fallen into the hands of jihadist recruiters.

The travel ban was imposed on anti-terrorism grounds because the government feared she may try to join Islamist militant groups fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The ruling is a victory for Salafists who say they are unfairly tarred with the Jihadi brush in France.

Salafism, which is the basis for Islamic State’s ideology, says Muslims must return to the practices of early Islam and shun many aspects of modern Western life. But most Salafists are non violent, analysts say. Religious leaders estimate there are about 15,000 Salafists in France.

Challenging the travel ban, the jilbab-wearing teenager told an administrative court two weeks ago: “I am a Salafist, but I am not Daesh”, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “There is a big difference.”

On Tuesday, the court ruled that she was a rigorously practicing Muslim and had regular contacts with Salafists but that “these (facts) are not enough in themselves to say she is attached to or close to Islamist terrorism.

“The Interior Ministry’s decision is flawed because of an error of judgment,” the ruling said.