Why France keeps being targeted by “Jihadi Terrorists”? An overview of France’s domestic context and Foreign policies
“Terrorism”, “immigration” and the “integration of minorities” and especially the “Muslim community and Islam within the Republic” are the main debated topics reported by the French mass media nowadays with terrorism as the main concern. Nevertheless, the authorities and specialists are in majority failing to provide answers to the core issues causing Terrorists to target France.
Through the past few years, Islamophobia and Nationalist discourses intensified on the French political scene and on the mass medias as well. Indeed, speeches expressing the idea that immigrants coming from particular regions of the world (Africa, Middle East), and Islam are potentially threatening the French National security, and the Republican culture were more and more expressed by the major political parties during the past decade, from the socialist political party to the National front (far right) via the UMP (right wing) .Indeed, French political elites have repeatedly expressed their concerns about Islam, with phrases such as:
‘its true that there is a problem with Islam’ (Francois Hollande).
“I wish i could prove that Islam is compatible with the Republic”. (Manuel Valls former prime minister).
Why France has become a target of ISIS? And How come that some French citizens decide to join ISIS and to commit such atrocities in their homeland?
To find the answers of these questions, it is essential to take in consideration France’s Domestic context and foreign policies.
Domestic context: Diversity, social exclusion and discrimination.
To introduce the French Demography, it is important to first emphasize the fact that few official sources are available regarding ethnic and religious groups in France, due to the 1875 and 1978 bills. The main purpose being to avoid any discrimination or racist measures based on these data. Thus, to conduct such statistical studies has become illegal in France, only few surveys conducted by official sources are available, what we provide then are approximate numbers and statistics.The French population is estimated to be around 66 million people. According to a Survey conducted by the C.S.A (Superior council of audiovisual) published in 2013. In 2010, France was approximately composed of 63% of Christians, 28% of atheists, 7.5% of Muslims and 1.5% of no declarations. The PEW research center (Think Tank based in Washington D.C.) estimated that there were around 4.7 million Muslim people in France in 2010, from that the INED (National institute on Demographic studies) and the INSEE (National Institute of Statistic and economic Studies) estimated that among them, between 70 000 and 100 000 people converted to Islam. Islam is estimated to be the second religion practiced in France after Christianism and before Judaism, even though almost 30% of the population is Atheist and this percentage is estimated to be growing.
Due to its long Colonial history and the number of “Francophone” countries around the world, it’s E.U. membership and its asylum policies, France has for a long time been one of the main destinations for migrants. As a result, according to the INSEE in a study showing the origins of migrants in 2008 (with a total of 18 million migrants, 2nd generations included). 44.8 % of the migrants came from E.U. countries (5 million people), 29.7% of them came from Maghrebian countries (3 million individuals) and 10% of them came from Subsaharian African countries (1 million people). People coming from Turkey, South-East Asia, other Asian countries and America/Oceania represented 15% of the total of migrants. Indeed, in most Subsaharian and Maghrebian countries, populations are Muslim in majority.
The majority of citizens who have origins from non E.U. countries (Subsaharian Africa, Maghreb, Asian countries, Middle-East etc..) are rather poor and thus, live in Banlieues (Ghettos). The French authorities, since December 26th 1996 established a list of “Sensible Urban zones” (Z.U.S.) meaning that riots and violence are more likely to occur in these areas than in other urban zones, and that more police presence is needed. Since the 2000’s there are in total 751 Z.U.S. On average, 45% of citizens aged between 15 to 29 Y-o living in these Z.U.S. were unemployed in 2009 (Le Monde). Indeed, Migrants and their descendants have harder access to jobs due to their area of residence (the Z.U.S. banlieues being stigmatized since their listing) and, their origins. High qualifications do not guarantee any better access to employments, since an increasing number of highly qualified individuals (1st ,2nd or third generations of migrants having Master degrees or above) have less job opportunities than the rest of the population in their fields of expertise (John Sides, the guardian). Thus an increasing number of them decide to go abroad in order to start or continue their careers (England, Canada…). The lack of opportunities is even worse for those without high qualifications or special skills. (the Washington Post) As a result, there is an almost total absence of minorities representation in politics and on other fields as well as at high responsibility positions. In addition to the lack of opportunities, according to a study of the National center for scientific research (CNRS) French minorities risked being controlled by the police between 3,3 and 11,5 times more than white citizens. French Arab citizens were controlled more than 7 times more than white citizens and black citizens 16 times more than white citizens. (2009). Therefore the rather new context of terrorism might have increased these numbers since 2009.
This context of socio-economic and spacial exclusion, police violence and racial profiling, indeed have created Social frustration among the poorest groups of the population especially among people living in Banlieues, and the latter uneasiness has been best materialized by the series of Riots that occurred since the 90’s. Indeed, Terrorism as well as the riots have to be understood in the realm of socio-economic and spacial exclusion and xenophobia.
You might ponder why? But who are the Terrorists?
Terrorists who committed attacks on the french soil were in majority French and Belgian citizens aged between 19 to 30 Years old and all lived in Banlieues. The “Jihadi” terrorists who carried-out the attacks were almost all from migrant or immigrant descants (Magrehbian and Sub-Saharan African countries). Some of them did not practiced regularly Islam and others came from non Muslim families and thus converted before Joining ISIS or other terrorist groups. As a result, a few number of them which cannot be overlooked were reported to be white and non-Muslim citizens. It has been estimated that 90% of them all radicalized while in Prison. Indeed, we have no empirical proof of the following argument, however, arguably, the less opportunities left for the youth on the Banlieues could lead some individuals to illegal activities, Prison can be seen as the paroxysm of socio-economic exclusion since a significant number of employments in France do not accept people with existing judicial records. A significant number of civil duties and rights are also prohibited to individuals with judicial records and notably they are excluded from the political life (no more right to vote).As an example, Mohammed Merah who committed two of the very first Jihadi attacks in Toulouse and Montauban shootings of March 11th and 19th 2012, have been recruited in prison by Al Qaeda members. Indeed as mentioned before, non African migrant descant citizens were also recruited by ISIS, the Social exclusion touches then all the poor classes, thus to solve socio-economic issues as well as ethnic and spacial discrimination must be the top priorities of the political Agenda. Therefore the only domestic context cannot explain alone the issue of terrorism striking France.
FRANCE’s Foreign policies: Military Interventions
Since General De Gaulle’s presidency (1945- 1968) to Jacques Chirac (1995 until 2007) French authorities was reluctant to any alignment to the US-lead interventions in the Middle-East (Afghanistan, Iraq…). Indeed, De Gaulle who was against the US domination and military presence in E.U., after the WW2 ordered the withdrawal of all the French military forces from NATO in 1966, though France didn’t stopped being a member of the organization. (NATO). However, this non-allignment ended with Nicolas Sarkozy’s Presidency (2007- 2012). As a result, In March 2009, France reintegrated NATO’s military structures. Thus, France got involved during the Arab spring and notably with its participation in the overthrow and the assassinations of Gaddafi and Sadam Hussein. The military weapons gaved to the rebels directly resulted in the escalation of violence in the region and in the destabilisation of the States which lead to the emergence of the Islamic State and the increase of terrorism in the region and worldwide. Indeed, the same weapons gaved to the rebels by the US, France and their local allies (Qatar, Arabia Saoudia…) are currently used by the latter terrorist groups as we speak. France’s involvement in the Middle-East along with the US since N.Sarkozy’s presidency can be seen as the starting point of the terrorist threats in France.
Nevertheless, the French foreign policies in the Middle-East, interventions and targeted military operations under the current Socialist Government (the historical opposition party of Sarkozy’s UMP) continued and actually intensified especially in Syria and Mali against Boko Haram as well. That intensification of the military interventions lead directly to the intensification of the number and the violence of Terrorist attacks, with the constant increase of the number of casualties each attacks (Toulouse, Hyper Käsher, Bataclan, Nice…). And notably lead to the Migrant crisis faced by the E.U as we speak. Nevertheless, the debate over the previous and present Governments’ responsibility in the current situation in the Middle East, in the E.U migrant crisis and in terrorist attacks is cruelly missing on the national debates.
Indeed, as Jan Nederveen Pieterse pointed out in a comparative study of Rwandan, former Yugoslvian and Somalia’s genocides (1997), economic crisis and societal crisis were followed by political scapegoating, the targeting of groups of populations as the causes of the issues harming the country and the population as a whole. While the true responsible were the governments, discourses were made in order to divide the population into groups, the “friends” versus the enemies of the States, which directly lead to these genocides and horrifying crimes. Not that a genocide of the French Muslim population will occur any time soon, but that the French authorities and political figures as a whole are following the same dangerous tracks.
Indeed, right after terrorist attacks, only a focus on the feelings of fear and hatred, on the need of retaliations and the protection of the “French’s way of life” are expressed through the media by the political figures. And thus, few explanations are made in order to properly understand why it happened and how to prevent such events from happening again. Such processes focused on feelings rather than facts thus lead to even more marginalization of the Muslim population.
What Domestic policies have been voted in the context of the Marginalization? Indeed, the 1905 bill over “Laïcité” (Secularism) guarantees the separation of the political from the Church and every other religious authorities. It guarantees as well the protection of individuals’ “rights to faith”, meaning that every citizens as long as they do not force other citizens to embrace their faith are free to exercise their own religion no matter what. This law is indeed central in the analysis of the latter marginalization process since it has been used in order to prove that for instance the Hijab, the Burkah and the Burkini were incompatible to the Secularism and thus a threat to the culture and to the Republic. Thus in 2004, a bill was passed in order to Ban the Hijab in public schools. In 2010 an other law prohibited citizens from dissimulating their faces in public places and banned the Burkha from the society.But indeed, such law aren’t exclusively a result of terrorist threats since they started from 2004, which is 8 years before the first Jihadi attacks of 2012. Furthermore these laws aren’t only harming the Muslim community in the context of Terrorism. Indeed, since 2005 (Nicolas Sarkozy was the Minister of Internal Affairs at the time), 7 laws were passed in order to reduce significantly the total number of immigrants, thus it has become increasingly harder, to be illegible to obtain the asylum for migrants. In 2015, a law authorizing Internet and phone surveillance by the police as been voted by the parliament. In order to be able to prevent more terrorist attacks. But indeed, this bill affects all French citizens even though some particular individuals will be specially spied on. The State of Emergency lead to an increase of the police’s prerogatives, and the reduction of judicial procedures. As a result, during the State of Emergency anyone can be arrested without a warrant or any justifications, the State of Emergency was prolonged another six month at the end of 2016. As a result in 2015 in France 73 terrorist attacks for 424 arrestations were reported. At the same time in the UK, 103 terrorist attacks happened in 2015 for 134 arrestations. Most of these arrestations were related to Jihadi terrorism, even though the majority of the total of terrorist attacks have been carried out by “non-religiously motivated individuals” (Europol, CIA).
What is the goal behind the Marginalization of the Muslim community?
The main goal of the political figures having such dividing discourses in a great majority of them, indeed isn’t the National security in itself or the protection of the French identity and culture. Since, “Jihadi” terrorist attacks in E.U represented merely 2% of the total of terrorists attacks carried out since 1999 (CIA, Europol). A rational thing to do in order to combat terrorism would be to fight each form of terrorism not only the Jihadi since it represents a huge minority of the total of terrorist attacks. Thus a contradiction appears between the actual situation and the reactions. Excessive reactions that might be explainable with Pieterse’s understanding of the Political Scapegoating (1997). As a result, the marginalization of the muslim community might be understood as a way of escaping the guiltiness of the societal issues and National security threats faced by France which were caused by the previous and current Governments. It also could be a way of gaining votes for individual political figures. Since Islam, immigration and National identity has argued earlier have been increasingly the most debated topics in the media and on the political scene, political elites might, in order to exist in the political scene feel an “obligation” to participate to the debates in order to exist on the political scene since these matters are vastly reported by the media, and because of the increasing number of the far right voters, the rational thing to do for political figures seeking for voters in the upcoming elections would be then to portray the muslim community as a threat along with everyone else. Since as mentionned before, the far right (FN) during the past few years has increasingly gathered a significant number of voters, becoming the third french political party which is an unseen event in the French political history. The aim for the left and the right is then to “gain back” these votes, but the french citizens as a whole have more and more disillusions regarding the entire political system of representation and the FN appears to be a credible alternative for a significant and increasing number of people. Thus, the marginalization of the muslim community carried out by the major french political parties through politicians speeches and policies is a political strategy and do not necessarily reflect the speechers beliefs, neither truly protects the citizens from other attacks. Indeed, the Nice attack occurred during the State of Emergency and 84 people were killed.As an example, Manuel Valls, France’s Prime minister and member of the Socialist party (PS) has been one of the perpetrators of the dividing debates and speeches since his appointment. Nevertheless, he officially expressed his intentions to run for Presidence and quit is position lately in order to focus on his campaign. During a meeting, he expressed his deep and sincere willing to put an end to the stigmatization and dividing debates over Muslims and Islam in France (To which he himself greatly participated).
Why and how come such a switch in his positions? We can analyze this as a strategy aiming at collecting the maximum of votes from the far right voters whose number has significantly increased, notably due to the latter marginalization which has convinced some citizens that “there is a problem with Islam” as Mr Hollande said. Nevertheless, failing to gather the far right votes, an other strategy seemingly used by the Prime Minister aimed at gathering as much as muslim votes as possible in the same time. Strategy which failed since Manuel Valls lost the Socialist party primary this week end to Benoit Hamon.
The French Foreign policies in the Middle-East in order to overthrow the authoritarian regimes of Gaddafi, Sadam Hussein and more recently the attempt of overthrowing Bachar el-Hassad lead the region to be the Eldorado for the so called “Jihadi” terrorist groups. It also lead to the increase in the number and violence of religiously motivated terrorist attacks in the E.U.. The increasing threats, then lead to trigger the marginalization of the Muslim populations having repercussions on the whole population and which emphasized the already existing discrimination based on individual’s origins, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds (Muslim and non-Muslims alike). The sustained and increasing social uneasiness, eventually feeds terrorist groups by increasing its number of recruits, leading to even more Terrorist attacks, to more military interventions in the Middle-East as retaliations and then again to more marginalization and policies such as the State of emergency which affects the entire population. Thus, Islamophobia in France have become a part of a vicious circle that the French authorities must escape from in order to truly achieve their National Security goals. The lack of answers to the latter socio-economic and spacial discrimination, resulted in an increasing resentment against the French establishment and political elites. The citizens increasingly feel abused by politicians in general and as a result during the past legislative elections of 2012, the abstention rate was around 44% , the 5th Republic’s record. The latter record lead to another one which is the number of seats earned by the National Front in the parliament.
All this context of fear and hatred set in motion by the leading political parties (Socialist party and UMP) lead the National Front to thrive. We might as a result, see a similar event as the election of Donald Trump in the U.S.. Is Marine Lepen going to be next French president?
Next article: Why some countries remain in underdevelopment?References- Sides J. (November 23 2015) “New research shows that French Muslims experience extraordinary discrimination in the job market” The Washington Post, Article available here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2015/11/23/new-research-shows-that-french-muslims-experience-extraordinary-discrimination-in-the-job-market/?utm_term=.a3d55738067a
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- INSEE (National Institute of Statistic and Economic Studies)- CSA (Superior council of audiovisual)- EUROPOL- INED (National Institute of Demographic studies)- CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)