Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Welcome to Castle Pontourny!

CastleGreetings, Ricochet, and welcome to Castle Pontourny! Marie-Alphonse Gréban de Pontourny, who lies in repose in the sepulchre of the chapel, bequeathed the chateau to the cause of charity and public works. For the next ten months, this majestic chateau in the pastoral Loire valley could be yours, all expenses paid! Are you stressed? Depressed? A staff of full-time counsellors and psychotherapists will be on hand to support you. Dissatisfied with your job prospects? You can study a new trade. Out of shape? There will be daily sports and fitness activities. Having a spiritual crisis? The staff is trained to help. And to keep your mind active, there will be daily discussion groups about current events, French history, geopolitics, and theology. Doesn’t that sound nice?
It does to me, which is why I’d like you to call the French government hotline and tell them you’re worried I’m about to join ISIS.
Apparently, I could be offered — if I’m willing to take it — a chance to reintegrate myself into French society at Castle Pontourney.
pontourny_centre_0I haven’t seen it for myself. So I can’t assure you that it is not, as reported in this most-read story on The Daily Beast, an Orwellian re-education camp:
Marseille — Young men from the northern districts of this most Muslim city in France are expected be among the first to be called up when the government in Paris kicks off its Orwellian new plan to fight the so-called Islamic State.
The idea is to herd suspected extremists into mysterious “deradicalization centers” all over the country. There are an estimated 9,000 radicalized—or “potentially radicalized”—jihadis believed to be in France, officials say. Another 2,000 French nationals are thought to have gone to Syria or Iraq to fight for the Islamic State.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said last week that France will establish as many as 13 centers all over the country—picture an odd mix of halfway house, prison, and sleepover camp—where Islamist radicals or those who show signs of wanting to join the jihad in Syria and Iraq will be housed and “re-educated.” Oh, and they’ll be monitored “day and night” for 10 months while wearing special uniforms, Valls said.
But from what I can tell so far, there’s no connection between this description and reality.
You can download and read the new Action Plan Against Radicalization and Terrorism on the Interior Ministry’s website. There are 80 measures in total. Most of them are what you’d expect: The government will be bombing ISIS in Syria, reinforcing nuclear plants and other potential targets, increasing the budget and staff of the intelligence and security services, sharing intelligence more widely within the Schengen zone, and yes, creating regional centers for at-risk youth.
But “herding suspected extremists into mysterious” camps? No, there are no plans to “herd” young men anywhere. Or to herd women, for that matter, since the center will be open to them, too. Participation in the program is voluntary, a salient detail omitted from the article. The plans are not mysterious; in fact, they’ve been widely reported, as has been the point that participants can leave anytime. This is precisely why the residents of Pontourny aren’t sure that they want it there. 
Since 2014, France has had a toll-free number for people call if they’re worried that a friend or a family member is behaving oddly. If you call the number, you’ll be interviewed by specialists who will assess the situation; if the person in question is a minor, he or she will be prevented from leaving the country.
If someone is assessed to be “at risk,” but has not committed a crime, he or she will be encouraged to spend time at a “weird, Orwellian re-education camp” like this one:
There he or she will receive counselling, education, mentoring, therapy, and job-training. Staff will lead group discussions about geopolitics and religion. Participants will be eligible for a two-month job internship. Afterward, they’ll be followed up by psychologists and psychiatrists.
From what I can tell, it’s standard cult deprogramming. As Le Monde reports,
“About thirty candidates, age 18 to 30, can stay there seven days a week or 24 hours a day if they want. [My emphasis.] They will be welcomed and supervised by 25-27 people,” specified the Prefect. The aim of the centers, each of which will cost an average of one million euros, is to “permit these individuals to rebuild, restructure, to have new projects, and find a job.”
But the headline “France’s Weird Jihadi Re-Education Camps Could Become ISIS Incubators” leads to what’s now the top story on The Daily Beast.
Pontourney isn’t that far from Paris. Thanks to you, I can go there when it opens this summer and see what’s really happening there. It sounds as if it might be quite an interesting story — although I’m pretty sure it’s not the story reported in The Daily Beast.

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