Latifa Ibn Ziaten: grieving mother, campaigner against radicalisation and Nobel nominee
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Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the French-Moroccan mother of a French soldier killed by a terrorist in 2012, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in combating radicalisation.
On March 11, 2012, Imad Ibn Ziaten met up with a man in a parking lot in the French city of Toulouse. The 31-year-old French army parachutist thought the man wanted to buy his scooter. In fact, the man was there to kill him.
Mohamed Merah, a radicalised French-Algerian national, targeted Imad because he blamed the French military for Muslim civilian deaths abroad. In the days after executing Imad, Merah went on to kill two more soldiers and four civilians, including three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Days later, Merah who came to be known as “The Toulouse Gunman” was killed in a police siege.
In the days after her son’s murder, Latifa Ibn Ziaten was desperately searching for answers. She went to the social housing units in Les Izards, where Merah was from. She asked a group of teenagers if they knew Merah. She told the media that they responded: “Don’t you watch TV, Madame? He’s a hero, a martyr for Islam!”
“I had the impression they were killing my son all over again,” she later recalled.
The young men told her that, like Merah, they were angry and felt excluded from French society. Ibn Ziaten, who emigrated to France at the age of 17, told them that they were wrong and that France could give them opportunities if they only tried.
Faced with an unspeakable tragedy, Ibn Ziaten had found her voice and her cause.
A month after her son’s death, she created an organisation bearing his name, the Imad Ibn Ziaten Association for Youth and Peace (Imad Ibn Ziaten association pour la jeunesse et la paix), with the goal of countering the radicalisation of kids like those she had met in Les Izards.
In the years since, she has travelled across France and the world, reaching out to young people in an effort to dissuade them from violent extremism and to encourage cultural and religious tolerance. She has also called on French politicians and institutions to make an effort to include disaffected youth and the children and grandchildren of immigrants in French society.
“No child is born a delinquent or a terrorist,” she said in an interview with French magazine Télé Star. “But if he doesn’t find his place, if he feels like no one is listening to him, he can become a ticking time bomb.”
While Ibn Ziaten’s battlegrounds are schools, community centres and prisons, her work has brought her national prominence. In 2016 on the anniversary of her son’s death she was awarded the Légion d’honneur by then president François Hollande. A documentary about her work Latifa, un cœur au combat, by Olivier Peyron and Cyril Brody, was released in October 2017.
The camera captures the warmth that Ibn Ziaten radiates she’s personable, sincere and quick to hug the young people she meets. However, it’s also clear that this 57-year-old mother in a neat hijab is made of pure steel. She’s the definition of tough love.
When Ibn Ziaten was nine, her father made her stop going to school. The little girl resolved to learn one day and, sure enough, when she joined her husband in France as a teenager, she devoted herself to learning to read and write French. Who would guess she’d one day use that French to greet the president of the republic. And, maybe, one day, she’ll use it to accept the Nobel Prize.
Ibn Ziaten’s candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize is supported by L'Hospitalité d'Abraham, a Lyon-based organisation dedicated to interfaith dialogue, especially between Muslims and Christians.
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