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Cultural Revolution within the anti-cult fight, by Raphaël Liogier
Marh 2008


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Cultural Revolution within the anti-cult fight, by Raphaël Liogier

For the first time in nearly thirty years, a way of thinking grounded on experience on the field and stemming both from the Ministry of the Interior, mindful of the safety of individuals, and from sociologists, mindful of the knowledge of religion, now wins over sheer denunciation.

But it is not easy, not without a hand-to-hand struggle fought today at the top of the state. Because it is important to understand that regarding sects, we are absolutely not in front of a political debate – contrary to what is hidden by the current uproar - , but in a face-to-face confrontation of two communities of senior officials, two administrative mentalities in short: on one side the Ministry of the Interior (Central Bureau of Worship, BCC), and on the other side Matignon(1) (the Inter-ministerial Mission of Vigilance and Fight against Sectarian Abuses, Miviludes).

Let's go back to the early 80s, the time of the first parliamentary report on cults, when the administrative anti-cult consensus takes place: Matignon and the Ministry of the Interior speak the same language. This is the time of the disenchantment of Miterrand’s Left which - after the victory of 1981 - , must undertake a policy of austerity because of the economic crisis. Culprits for this frustrating situation are to be found. Weird sects are a perfect scapegoat, but not only them. The first denunciations of suburbs’ wild youths took place at the same time. The administrative machinery will get carried away from the beginning.

Two associations have won fame in this crusade: the Centre against mind control (CCMM), rather Jacobin secular left wing, which guards the shrine of rational truth against superstitions, and the National Union of Associations for the Defense of the Family and the individual (Unadfi), rather liberal(2) right wing, even Christian, defending the family and the individual against harmful influences. Both associations will become the only licensed informers of the State, receiving millions of euros in subsidies.

All scholars, researchers at the CNRS (National Centre of Scientific Research), appointed and paid by the Republic to scientifically study these movements will initially be slightly blamed because of their reluctance to point the finger at the sectarian danger, then they will be excluded straight out from any discussion and finally accused of betraying the Republic. All researchers, without exception, and I mean all of them, regardless of their partisan affiliation or their political views, all specialists on religious matters agree to the fact that for the past thirty years, the lists prepared by the parliamentary commissions, as well as the so-called inquiries by inter-ministerial missions are fanciful.

In the 1990s, Matignon, with the inter-ministerial Mission of fight against sects (MILS), will become the Vatican of this crusade, mobilizing all ministries (education, work, health, etc.) against anything more or less resembling to a sect. But this beautiful consensus will crumble for two reasons.

First of all, because people in the field, from justice and national education ministries, academic inspectors and especially of course the General Intelligence officials (RG), who were convinced at the beginning of a sectarian threat, realize that the problem is overstated. Second, because major religions, particularly Catholics and Protestants, who hitherto had said nothing in front of such timely disqualification of rival groups, are concerned about this crusade atmosphere. Actually, the last MILS report was not only on sects, but also on superstition, fundamentalism, and finally religion in general.

In 2001, the About-Picard Act against sects is about to be passed: it had never gone this far. But all of a sudden, when Elisabeth Guigou, Minister of Justice at the time, consults the Advisory Committee on Human Rights (which includes representatives of major religions) on this law, there is a lukewarm reaction. The law will then be stripped of its contents, in spite of the fierce resistance of anti-sect troops. The power balance has changed.

Immediately after these events, the MILS was replaced by the Inter-ministerial Mission of Vigilance and Fight against Sectarian Abuses. The message is clear: just being vigilant and not going on a crusade, not hitting sects as such, but only those which “go astray”.

Since 2001, the confrontation between these two administrative mentalities has embittered. On one hand the Ministry of the Interior, the BCC with the General Intelligence Service, globally agreed with researchers on the innocuousness of the overwhelming majority of new religious movements, and on the other hand, an offensive Miviludes remained deaf to criticism and entrenched behind Matignon. This antagonism will suddenly break out in broad daylight at the hearing of senior officials from different ministries in front of the commission in charge of the last report of December 2006 on cults.

Most ministerial officials declared that there was no problem, first the Head of the central office of worship, who will point out about the Jehovah's Witnesses, targeted at the time, that there was no problem related to children’s lives in danger because of transfusion refusals, contrary to some allegations stating ... 45 000 children at risk.

The Head of the General Intelligence Service will even dare to add that after surveys done in prefectures, National Education, the DASS (Directorate of Health and Social Affairs), day camps, and agencies dealing with young people, there are only "a few dozens of alerts." The Head of BCC will then be attacked, violently summonned to retract.

The statements by Michele Alliot-Marie on the Miviludes or by Valérie Pécresse on sects have then nothing to do with "secularism in danger", but reflect an administrative shift legally required by the European Court of Human Rights, which has been severely criticizing France for several years for religious discrimination.

Moreover, the Miviludes’ administrative mentality which is based on voluntary ignorance of the field, does not help to fight against really dangerous sects, but instead protects them because of the confusion it fuels. Result: inefficiency and discrimination! The solution lies in a serious body, consisting of representatives of the civil society and researchers, such as “Inform” for our English neighbors, which exists not to condemn sects beforehand, but to inform both the state and the public without fantasizing.

1 : The Prime Minister’s office at the Matignon Palace in Paris.

2 : Liberal: used now-a-days by the left in France to mean modern capitalism liable for unemployment, company relocation and loss of social advantages and of State control on industry, different from the old right wing mentality like De Gaulle who was more interventionist.

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