Latifa Ibn Ziaten, is a 61-year-old French Moroccan activist. She worked in the domain of counter-extremism and promoting tolerance. She became instantly renowned after a serious trauma in 2012 when she tragically lost her son, who was a soldier in the French army, in a terrorist attack by a French terrorist of Algerian origins. This inspired in her a fierce determination for serious counter-extremism work in France and other countries, combating ideological intolerance and all forms of discrimination based on religion, race, language, gender, or color, and instilling the culture of dialogue, coexistence and harmony. In a few years, she turned from a grieving mother into an icon of tolerance and counter-extremism.
Imad ibn Ziaten, 30, advertised a motorcycle for sale on a website. Mohammed Merah (a terrorist affiliated with al-Qaeda’s Jund al-Khilafah (JAK-T)) responded, and they agreed to meet in a Toulouse, France, parking lot to complete the purchase. Merah betrayed him by shooting him in the head and fleeing. He later participated in genocides that killed soldiers and children before being murdered by French police.
Latifa Ibn Ziaten, Imad’s mother, said that despite her pain and grief, she decided to visit the location where her son was murdered, and found his blood still there. She said it was an indescribable moment. However, she stood strong and went to the murderer’s house, desperately searching for answers. She was astonished by the pride taken by the boys of the neighborhood in the crimes of Merah, who called him a hero and a martyr for Islam!
She screamed that she was the mother of Imad who had been murdered by Merah. “Is that something you’re particularly proud of?” They were taken aback and apologized before blaming the harsh reality of their lives in those enclosed neighbourhoods. Isolation and exclusion from French society made them vulnerable to terrorist groups. That marked a watershed moment for Latifa Ibn Ziaten. Despite her emotional distress, she said she decided to talk to them, correct their misconceptions, and encourage them to let go of their hatred and grudges. She soon after established the IMAD Association for Youth and Peace.
IMAD Association for Youth and Peace
According to Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the main causes of extremism are lack of good education and job opportunities, low self-esteem, family disintegration, immigration and integration issues, dominant religious misconceptions, and an overheated atmosphere of intolerance, hate, and conflict. These issues must be addressed through serious collaboration efforts to promote peace and coexistence, protect young people from extremist advocates, and provide them with a better future.
Latifa became an activist since the foundation of her association. She visited marginalized and impoverished neighborhoods around France and all over the world as well as crime-ridden areas. She met and communicated with school and university students, educating them. In addition, she held seminars and forums for youths from different religions, promoting love, tolerance and social cohesion.
Latifa also started a global prisoner movement, believing that the prison is usually a place of hatred where prisoners suffer psychologically. She wanted to listen to them, have discussions with them, counsel them, and encourage them to practise tolerance in their lives both inside and outside of prison, to let go of all hatred and resentment, and to live a new life full of love, fraternity, and harmony.
Awards and Honors
Latifa Ibn Ziaten received awards and honours for her efforts in peacebuilding and immunizing young people against extremism, including the Chirac Foundation prize for deepening a culture of peace, the Marcel Rudloff Tolerance Prize for the most anti-sectarian initiative that promotes accepting the other, and the Legion of Honor awarded by French President François Hollande. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI paid tribute to Latifa ibn Ziaten. Ahmad al-Tayyib, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and Pope Francis of the Vatican, honoured her with the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity 2021.
Latifa ibn Ziaten’s Journey
Latifa ibn Ziaten documented her experience in a book titled Mort Pour La France: Mohamed Merah a tué mon fils [Death for France: Mohamed Merah Killed my Son]. She tells the story of her immigration to France and elaborates on problems of immigration and integration, how people of non-French origins can become good French citizens without denying their own origins, and how they can practice their religions without compromising the foundations of the State.
The “Latifa: A Fighting Heart” documentary tells the story of Latifa Ibn Ziaten, a mother who, after her son was killed in a terrorist incident, turned from a grieving mother into a figure of peace, love, tolerance and counter-extremism and terrorism.