Monday, 8 October 2012

France's 'race' and 'terrorist' issues highlight the failure of laïcité and social policy

A group of laïcists brush off social issues with a smile
Here are the headlines of the eight articles which were to be found, one after the other, at the top of the Figaro website homepage at 11:30 this morning;

Prasquier: a warmongering Islam is developing
Terrorism: Manuel Valls promises more arrests
Do you fear an increase in terrorist acts by Islamists in France? (poll, with over 80% of 'yes' votes as I type)
Valls: these terrorist networks are within our communities
Bruguière: Muslim proselytes are the most dangerous
Twelve apprentice Jihadists ready to die as martyrs
The Jews of Sarcelles refuse to give in to fear
CRIF: Radical Islamism is Nazism (CRIF = Representative Council of Jewish organisations in France.)

These articles and more were posted over the last 24 hours and they all concern issues related to weekend raids on alleged jihadists in various cities by anti-terrorist police which resulted in twelve arrests and the death of one suspect, who was shot after he opened fire on police officers who wanted to arrest him. Those arrested are suspected of being implicated in a grenade attack on a kosher grocery store which took place in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles on September 19.

Although the other French papers did not put quite as much emphasis on the story as Le Figaro did they all ran prominent coverage and analysis by various experts and former terrorist police chiefs. In what is being interpreted as a riposte to the arrests, drive-by shooters fired blanks at a synagogue, also in Paris, on Saturday evening which prompted President Hollande to meet urgently with CRIF representatives to reassure them and promise increased police protection for "religious sites".

The fact that France is preoccupied with these events to this exaggerated degree may surprise some but this situation has been brewing for months, as anyone who follows race and terrorist issues in France will attest, with each week bringing its lot of race and terrorist-related articles and pronouncements by politicians.

The Mohammed Merah affair, in which a young French-Algerian man who described himself as an Islamic terrorist shot and killed seven people and seriously wounded several others during three attacks in March, shocked the country. Three of the victims were off-duty soldiers and most of the remaining victims were Jewish. He was killed after a 30-hour siege.

The story dominated the press for many weeks, but it has since been overtaken in importance by a slew of more recent race/terrorist-related incidents and statements.

Jean-François Copé, candidate for the presidency of the right-of-centre UMP, has been quite busy stoking the fires of racial tensions in France over the last few weeks. He caused outrage a while back with the assertion that "anti-white racism" existed in predominantly immigrant areas of cities and he was even rounded on by his own party.

Undeterred however, last week saw him back in the headlines with a statement in which he said that young thugs (read Muslim thugs) steal food from other children on the pretext that "you mustn't eat during Ramadan."

Other headlining stories over the last month or two include that of the Charlie Hebdo Mohamed cartoons, which led to outbreaks of vandalism and attacks on Jewish-owned or run property amid vain calls by Muslim community leaders asking people to remain calm. The Chief Rabbi in Lyon received death threats and elsewhere three Jewish men were attacked with a hammer and iron bars.

Front National leader Marine le Pen predictably joined in by foolishly falling into a cheap journalistc trap laid by a journalist from Le Monde and saying that kippas should be banned in public. This caused a furor for days. Also, October 4th marked the 10th anniversary of the murder of Sohane Benziane, a 17-year-old girl who was covered in petrol and burned alive in a storage room for rubbish bins in a high-rise building in Vitry-sur-Seine in affair involving family honour. This crime has become synonymous here with sexist attacks by men in immigrant communities and their perceived machism.

These and other stories have been given prominent press coverage for months and the culminating effect is very bad news for France, particularly given that the country has the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe. But what could possibly have led to this situation in a country which prides itself on its multiculturalism?

France's social fabric is defined and underpinned by its strong secular principles, called 'laïcité', the idea of which is to ensure that religion and religious considerations come second to the idea that, whatever one's origins, one is French first. The system arguably worked well while Catholicism was massively predominant, but that changed after the Algerian War when large-scale immigration from Algeria began and was increased in scope with the worldwide phenomena of increased immigration in general.

The result is that France now has a large and varied immigrant population, many of whom live in poorer areas on the outskirts of cities, where unemployment is rife. Racial tensions have been simmering for years and anti-immigrant racism has become commonplace. The post 9/11 era has exacerbated the situation, as have the Arab Spring conflicts, and Jews have become the scapegoat for the frustrations of a tiny minority of disaffected Muslims, more and more of whom have gone overseas for jihad training, inspired by terrorist attacks and a desire for revenge.

But the situation is much the same in Britain, which has its own problems with immigration and home-grown terrorists so the fact that France has these problems to deal with too does not in itself explain the country's current fever-pitch obsession with all things racial and terrorist.

This is because France is slowly waking up to the realisation that the principles of laïcité are becoming irrelevant, and fast. They were not designed with the current situation in mind, a situation which sees large populations of immigrants living together. They were designed as a colonialist 'we're all French together' sop to its overseas territories, including Algeria, and not as a means of social integration in France, which is why all efforts to apply it have ended in failure.

Nor was laïcité meant to help combat inequalities and societal problems, even more so given that it was precisely the idea of laïcité that contributed much to France's disastrous integration policies, which have led to the development of sprawling immigrant ghettos. These policies have led to the alienation of many young immigrants and the increase in what is erroneously termed 'Salafist' tendencies within their ranks. France now has 12,000 Salafists on its territory according to French intelligence agencies

Poverty, unemployment, a sentiment of abandon and a refusal based on the principle of laïcité to tackle head-on the problems facing individual immigrant communities ('we are all French so there is no racism and thus no problem to resolve') has created a major social crisis.

Those who commit Antisemitic acts and those intent on pursuing terrorism must be punished severely, but until France admits that it has serious social problems and begins to address them instead of hiding behind the fig-leaf of laïcité the situation will only get worse. France's problem is not one of racism and terrorism, it is the direct result of the country's failure to integrate its immigrants.

A time-bomb of hate and resentment is ticking away in France, and it's time France began to try and defuse it before it's too late.


  1. But do you really think it's defusable ? Past policies have made it so that a large part of the immigrant population has been s*** upon for a long time. Sufficient time for this group to have absolutely no desire to integrate into the general population.

    Personally, I'm all in favour of laicite, even though I feel it has been used as an excuse to legislate against anything that is deemed "un-french", and that France's long christian history tends to muddle the water (veil in school, official christian holidays....).

    I'm an atheist, my parents are as well and so were my grand-parents which make if not religion as a whole, but very religious people quite alien to me. Yet my parents baptized me. "In case"my mother told me "I became religious".

    Which shows quite a bit that even though the country is officially laic, Catholicism is still the faith of choice for some.
    If not as a religion, as a culture and past people can rally around.

    Like you said laicite is not something one can really build a country around, and after living for some time where Christianity has been somewhat neutered, suddenly being faced with another culture with it's own more vibrant religion people act like asshats.

    People that were immigrants and felt ostracized from the community suddenly latch on with a huge fervor to something that allows them some kind of family, some kind of core value, no matter how abhorrent they may be to others.

    And I can't really see how the damage that has been done can be repaired,I've gone from thinking about ways to defuse it to thinking about what I will do when it blows up.

    (sorry I'm out of practice with my English)

  2. Helo Greg, and you offer some very pertinent opinions. I too am an atheist and as such in favour of secularism, but I consider that France's strict interpretation of it is doing more bad than good in today's world. I was particularly struck by this;

    "People that were immigrants and felt ostracized from the community suddenly latch on with a huge fervor to something that allows them some kind of family, some kind of core value, no matter how abhorrent they may be to others."

    That is incontestably true. Moreover, and as an extrapolation, extremist Muslim groups the world over (most notably Hezbollah) have recognised this and developed vast networks of social aid and education (according to their version of history) to Muslim populations and organisations.

    And this is why in my view more effort should be made to integrate France's immigrant populations.

    (Oh and by the way, your English is excellent! :)