France on the Look-out for Post 9/11 Cults

NCM Online/February 27, 2002
By Paolo Pontoniere

French authorities are worried that the war on terrorism may become a Trojan Horse for religious cults to infiltrate relief operations and the health sector worldwide.

The online periodical The Tocqueville Connection last Tuesday reported that France's Inter-ministerial Mission for the Fight Against Sects (MILS) unveiled the results of an investigation indicating that there's evidence that cults' efforts have been particularly successful in New York. According to TTC here, members of the Church of Scientology, in their aim to gain popular acceptance and respectability, are offering training courses in paramedical techniques and psychological therapies to new recruits.

In addition the online media reports that in the aftermath of 9-11, members of the Church were seen approaching grieving bystanders and stunned onlookers around the ruins of the World Trade Center. The MILS report, a copy of which was provided also to French Prime Minister Lionel Jospen, states that Scientology's disciples were also present at the site of a petrochemical plant explosion that took place in Toulouse, France, on September 21. On that occasion 30 people were killed and 2500 were injured. Even though it was never claimed as such by any entity, French authorities believe that the blast was caused by a terrorist group.

Although it names also other sects, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, the MILS report appears to be directed mostly at scrutinizing the activities of the Church of Scientology. France, that do not recognizes the Church of Scientology as a religious entity, has been in a tug of war with the denomination for some times now. Last year, after classifying Scientology as a dangerous cult, France's parliament passed a law giving judges the power to ban the activities of religious sects that use forcible methods of proselytizing. Such methods include practices like psychological manipulation and chemical exploitation; all of these methods in France are considered illegal and are prosecuted by law.

Not only renewed Scientology members, such as actors John Teravolta and Tom Cruise, but also the US government and human rights groups, have criticized France's tough stance. They all fear that under this umbrella France may prosecute all religious minorities.

Rejecting this form of criticism MILS' authorities underscore that it is due to their vigilance that until now only a small number of people have joined religious sects in France. In its report the MILS estimates that the number of such people ranges around 400,000, and that about half of them would be Jehovah Witnesses. MILS believes that the Church of Scientology, although still relatively small in terms of its membership, is the most aggressive in soliciting public funds given to organizations that operate in the health and humanitarian aid sectors, in this signaling a concerted effort to gain a steady foothold among the hospitalized population and public assistance seekers.

Calling for an increased vigilance about the nature of non-governmental groups involved in humanitarian aid and public health missions, the reports urges also a better coordination between international organism and national ministries to prevent a potential sectarian polarization of relief efforts worldwide.

In Paris, in a rebuttal to the findings of the report Aram Kevorkian, the US lawyer that represents French scientology members, declared that the allegations are totally unfounded and that Scientology in France is victim of a witch-hunt.

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