Colonization, Isolated Muslim Communities, and a Strong Stance Against Terrorism: Why France Finds Itself in the Crosshairs of the Islamic State. By Kris Helt
**Note from author – I wrote this paper for an amazing instructor who lives and breathes this topic. It was my first foray into the land of terrorism and I found myself appalled by how little I really knew. So this paper helped sort out a few of those blind spots. I hope my bib lends someone else a starting place on their own journey of learning. I have included pictures of the books that are links to Amazon.com in case you would like to purchase one of the titles.
Islam is second only to Catholicism as one of France’s most practiced religions. This fact is not surprising since there are over five million Muslims that live in France today. One of the largest Muslim immigrant waves to reach Europe began after World War II. These immigrants were fleeing poor countries to ones that were prospering economically and needed men to fill labor forces, rebuilding what the war had destroyed. In many cases across Western Europe, these immigrants were being actively recruited.
Eventually France, mimicking other European nations, tightened their borders not allowing the unskilled workers to come in. They did allow family members to join family already in Europe. This practice created a whole new and unexpected dilemma. Unlike the mass of single, unskilled workers whose focus was to make money and see to their economic rights, family units were also concerned with cultural and religious needs. The influx of families constituted the second largest wave of Muslim immigrants into Europe.
The shift from single male immigrant to family immigration also changed how the migrants chose to settle. Prior to the second wave, the migrant was considered a temporary worker that would eventually go back to his home country, but the families were after a more permanent situation. This permanence left the European governments deliberating on how accommodating to Muslims they would have to be, whether to pass laws forbidding discrimination, as well as what changes would need to be carried out in schools and the workplace.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States, these questions became ever more urgent to answer. There have been differing solutions on accommodation among Britain, Germany, and France. Britain has taken a cooperative path to ensure that Muslim communities’ religious needs are met. Germany, as of 2006, continues to encourage its Muslim immigrants to return to their home countries, allowing few to become citizens, and has tight immigration controls. Like Germany, France also placed more restrictions on immigration in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as encouraging them to not make France a permanent residence. This lack of welcome, along with France’s laïcité, which, like in the United States, is a concept that separates church from the government, found Muslims less than accommodated.
The tense relationship of French Muslims with the rest of the country’s citizens has gone on for so many years that a boiling point has now been reached. Terrorist acts are being committed all over the world by radical Islamic State groups, but France appears to be one of the most heavily hit targets. There have been over fifteen acts of terrorism in France since 2012. My argument is that France has become a major target for the Islamic State for three main reasons: the colonization by France in the Middle East and North Africa, the forced isolation of Muslim communities in France, and the strong stance France has taken against terrorism.
The History of French Colonization of the Middle East and North Africa
First, we will examine French colonization in the Middle East and North Africa. After the first World War concluded and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire occurred, the League of Nations backed the Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France. The agreement allowed France and Britain to create a direct or indirect control of the Arab territories. France received modern-day Lebanon and the Syrian coast. Britain controlled central and southern Mesopotamia. The French supervised, through local Arab chiefs, the northern territory of modern-day Syria, Mosul in northern Iraq, and Jordan. Britain controlled the southern portion of the territories. Each country traded and received free passage throughout each other’s territories. The British made promises to the newly formed Arab administration that they never planned on keeping, because they were more committed to the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement with France. Syrians believed it was the British they would be dealing with, but on November 26, 1919, the French moved in and the British, in acquiescence to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, pulled out.
Britain and France had similar motives for colonization. Both wanted to ensure their financial concerns. Britain needed to keep the route to India safe, cheap oil that was accessible, and to maintain an influence in the Mediterranean. France also wanted to keep the Mediterranean as an economic base and get inexpensive supplies of cotton and silk. France differed on two of their objectives: to continue to strengthen ties with Syrian Catholics and to keep Arab nationalism out of the empire they had created in North Africa.
Unfortunately, France divided the region into six states or sub-colonies. This division caused the already angry Syrians to become more hostile to the encroachment. Revolts took place throughout all of the Syrian states. Once King Faisal’s government gave way, resistance increased as anger burned even more intensely against France. France wanted to weaken Arab nationalism, and the state divisions that were ultimately controlled by France did this.
Lebanon’s Maronite Christians were the only people encouraged by the French presence. The Maronite’s wanted French rule, and a Greater Lebanon to ensure their safety. Up until this point, Lebanon had always been a part of the Ottoman Empire but never its own state. Greater Lebanon included Tripoli, Sidon, and Tyre, and the capital of Beirut. Tripoli is known for its extreme reputation for violence, and of being the home for the Islamic Unity Movement, a large radical Sunni group that was not put down until 1986 by the Syrian army.
Pope Leo X described the Maronites as a rose among thorns. The French gave the Maronites their protection after the Mamlooks were defeated by the Ottomans in 1516. It is after this defeat that the Ottomans moved into Lebanon. They increased persecution of the Maronites between 1845 and 1860 and again between 1914 and 1918 causing the deaths of thousands and mass emigration. So it was understandable that the Maronites were gladdened by French occupation.
The French took Syrian jurisdiction away from the Beqaa Valley and gave it to the new Lebanese state. Knowing the French favored the Christians, anti-French and anti-Maronite groups were formed. These groups wanted to be under the rule of the rest of Syria and away from the Christians and their French allies. Greater Lebanon forced further sectarian conflicts, and never became anything more than a French power base in the Middle East.
North Africa also dealt with a French presence. Charles X could not pay France’s debt to the ruler of the Regency of Algiers, the day, causing friction between the dey and the ambassador to France, Deval. This disagreement, which was the fault of France, allowed Charles X the excuse to begin a blockade of the port of Algiers. By July 5, 1830, after only a three-week campaign, the French entered Algiers. Soon after, Charles X was deposed and Louis-Philippe ruled France. The new monarchy was less inclined to continue hostilities with Algeria but found that getting out was going to be harder than getting in. Unfortunately for the Algerians, they paid with their lives. Historian Ben Kiernan, author of Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur considered the French occupation of Algeria to be an act of genocide. He writes that approximately 825,000 Algerians were killed between 1830 through 1875.
From 1830 to 1848 Algerians continued revolts against the French. In 1834 France annexed a portion of Algeria for colonization. The coming land appropriation for cotton fields saw France become increasingly entrenched in Algeria. It is not difficult to see why there has been lasting antipathy for the French in this region. France appeared to have little care with the Algerian people, their culture, or their religion. On March 18, 1843, French Lieutenant-Colonel Lucien de Montagnac wrote this in a letter to a friend:
…All populations which do not accept our conditions must be despoiled. Everything must be seized, devastated, without age or sex distinction: grass must not grow any more where the French army has put the foot. Who wants the end wants the means, whatever may say our philanthropists. I personally warn all good militaries which I have the honour to lead that if they happen to bring me a living Arab, they will receive a beating with the flat of the saber… This is how, my dear friend, we must do war against Arabs: kill all men over the age of fifteen, take all their women and children, load them onto naval vessels, send them to the Marquesas Islands or elsewhere. In one word, annihilate all that will not crawl beneath our feet like dogs.
It was not until the Algerian War ended, 1954 to 1962, that decolonization in Algeria occurred. A number of Muslims immigrated to France during this time and went into the labor force. The French needed the workforce and allowed the immigration. However, during one of their economic downturns from 1973 to 1974, the government ended massive migration from North Africa.
Algeria was not the only country to be overrun by the French. Tunisia’s government was a weak one, their tax system was inefficient to the point of nonexistence, compounded with a series of droughts, meant this province of the Ottoman Empire was ripe for conquest. The British got there before France and reinstated Tunisia as a province of the Ottoman Empire as well as attempting several commercial endeavors, they ultimately failed, furthering Tunisia’s vulnerability.
As Tunisia was a neighbor to the already French-occupied Algeria, it made sense that France take control of the country, increasing their prestige and limiting British influence in the area. The French landed in Tunisia May 3, 1881, and the Bardo Treaty was signed May 12. Though an insurrection was attempted, it was quashed easily. Within a few years, French settlers were building businesses on the coast and bringing their Western influence. Tunisia did not receive independence from France until 1956. Colonization caused ripples of discontent between the French and the people whose territories they ruled. It is possible that even more than colonization, the isolation of Muslim communities inside of France has had more of a negative impact.
Isolation of Muslim Communities
In this second section, we will discuss the different ways in which Muslims in France are isolated and forced to live as an outsider, never a citizen in the truest sense. Since 1905 France has followed a strictly secular program. It consists of three main criteria:
Church and State are separate
Freedom to choose any religion
Public schools are free of all religion
How these secular fundamentals mesh with French Muslims practicing Islam has caused much angst within France.
There are predominantly Muslim countries where Islam is practiced but are also considered secular states. Islam and secularism can coincide. So the question is then, why do the over five million Muslims living in France chafe at the restrictions? The United States is secular as well, and yet those of Islamic faith have lived and thrived in the US with little incident.
It has been theorized that France, after the passing of the law of 1905, took every religious power out of the government. It was a firm and unbending law, and yet in 1926, the Grand Mosquée de Paris was built by the government for its French Muslims. All immigrants of the twentieth century, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant, were treated similarly, however, Muslims were the only religion to receive funding for religious sites. There was no government funding for Catholic cathedrals or Jewish synagogues. Author Naomi Davidson makes a strong case that France considered that Catholics, Protestants, and Jews could become secular French people, but believed that Muslims could not become secular and therefore required government assistance. In other words, France believed that Muslim immigrants would never be able to fully integrate into French society.
The two waves of Muslim immigration to France were incorporated differently. From 1974 to 1989 there was little accommodation nor tolerance of religious needs. The second wave, 1989 to 2005, found the government permitting Muslims the same religious rights as other groups. France did make a considerable effort to domesticate French Muslims, which showed the country’s ambiguous feelings toward them. Basically, it was believed that to fit in, Muslims must change or conform.
France may appear like they were a country that proudly accepted those from every religion. However, a closer look will show that the condition in Muslim communities was anything but ideal. Secularism was not the only source of contention. The 2010-1192 law banning face coverings in public and the overall discrimination of Muslims in the workplace and daily life forced a continued disillusionment and dissatisfaction among French Muslims. France is home to several banlieues, rundown suburban ghettos that immigrants tend to live, and despite riots in 2005, they are still in derelict condition. France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, is quoted as saying there was “territorial, social and ethnic apartheid” in France. It should be noted here that Prime Minister Valls also responded heatedly to a New York Times article on September 5, 2016. He felt the article gave too much voice to French Muslim women and went on to say that their new ‘burkini,’ a modest swimdress that allowed for appropriate reserve, was in fact “…not an anodyne bathing outfit, but a provocation.” The mixed messages here are unfortunate but predictable. It is no secret that the over four million people who live in these banlieues are discriminated against. Polish sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman believes a collective lack of identity in French society is what marks the modern underclass. Some of the radicals responsible for the attacks in Paris originated out of these neglected suburbs.
Racism, disguised as sectarianism, was the unspoken motivation behind the ban on the headscarf. The law said any conspicuous religious association could no longer be worn in public places. This law was promoted under the guise of protecting French laïcité. However, the wearing of the headscarf did not undermine laïcité for the French. The law seemed a deliberate blow to the French Muslim society. The United States is also a secular nation that stands firm for religious freedom, which is written in the Constitution and upheld by the government. Yet the headscarf is worn legally in the United States throughout school and in all businesses with no negative recourse to the woman or child.
The 2010 law came after the unfortunate 2004 ban on religious symbols worn in public schools. An underlying motive for the ban in schools is France’s need to mold its subjects into a republican cast, one in which women were not a subjugated sub-class under the heavy hand of their priest, imam, or father. The hijab represented to some a step backward in women’s rights. Consider that the French National Assembly in 2006 awarded the best political book of the year to Caroline Fourest’s La tenttion obscurantiste. Fourest was an outspoken supporter of the headscarf ban and an advocate for adherence to secularism. Fourest and her partner Fiammetta Venner believed that the church was going to try and wriggle its way back into the political arena, and the headscarf was an entrée. Fourest and Venner are quoted as saying:
The veil is not a debate in itself. It is a test which ought to allow us to affirm a particularly ambitious vision of laïcité at a moment when it is more threatened than ever by the rise of fundamentalisms. The authorization of the veil in schools is only one step in the agenda of fundamentalist associations which want to test secularism.
If France was concerned about unity amongst its people, this award resulted in one more backward step. The ban managed to widen the racial divide. Schools had already been divided over economic and social factors, so bringing religion to the forefront exacerbated the issue. There are several Muslim women, out of school, who have reported that since the ban they have been refused service and asked to even remove their headscarf.
Most Muslims have complied since many cannot afford private schools where religion is permitted. By forcing a young girl to take off her veil during school hours her religious need for modesty is being wholly disregarded. She then is to put it back on once off school grounds. A clear message is being sent that she does not belong and the affirmation that there is genuine, official disapproval towards her. Both the 2004 and 2010 legislation on the headscarf and full face coverings are not examples of freedom of religion. Freedom of religion means a person can choose to practice the religion of their choice. Headscarves and full face coverings are a part of Muslim practice so they should be allowed.
Between 2013 and 2014, the Institut Montaigne performed an experiment on France’s job market to find out just how much discrimination is taking place against Muslims. The experiment’s complete results were published by the institute. The Washington Post ran an article on the experiment and came away with these four findings: Muslims were contacted less frequently than Catholics or Jews with the same qualifications, 10% Muslims, 16% Jews, and 21% Catholic, Muslim men were discriminated against the most with only a 5% call back rate, if a Muslim man indicated on his application that he was a believer of French laïcité his chances improved, but only by the slightest margin, and Muslim men who still claimed their religion, but changed their name to a more anglicized one raised their chances, but again only slightly. The French government has done little to combat this type of discrimination. The isolation of Muslim communities in France has created an arena for radical proselytizing. Out of the three main reasons that France has become such a target for the Islamic State, the isolation of the Muslim communities is probably the most difficult to change. France has, however, taken a bold stance against terrorism.
France’s Strong Stance Against Terrorism
This section will cover the third reason France has become such a target of terrorism, which stems from the strong stance taken against the Islamic State. France has taken several strong steps to counter terrorism in its cities. Four strategies that they have tried are anti-terrorism legislation, the counter-extremism program, the raiding and disbursement of migrant tent cities, and mosque closings. These strategies are an attempt to lessen the likelihood of terrorism, ultimately saving lives. However, it has also spurred further bad feelings with the Islamic State and French Muslims.
According to the guidelines set out by the European Union, France is following EU’s strategies closely. The EU considers radicalization a prelude to the terrorism phase, therefore radicalization must be combatted to stop terrorism. They have three main elements to this strategy: interrupt the networking and individuals who are drawing the new recruits, next, block out extremist opinions with mainstream opinions, and lastly, “promote yet more vigorously security, justice, democracy and opportunity for all.”
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development has been continually reassessing its legislation and adding additional laws as terrorism has increased since 1986. France has been subjected to attacks from the Groupe Islamique Armé in the 1990s in Algeria, and splinter groups encouraged by Al-Qaeda since 2001, with attacks increasing in violence and frequency continuing to the present. Anti-terrorism legislation was created in 1986 and 1996, and again in 2006 after the London and Madrid bombings, which gave the right to freeze the assets of anyone found to be involved.
In 2012, Act 2012-1432, allows terrorists to be tried in France even if they committed the crime in another country. Special units were also created, the Directorate General of External Security, the Central Domestic Intelligence Directorate, the Anti-Terrorist Coordination Unit, and the National Intelligence Council that evaluates possible terrorist threats. Two special police units were also formed, the National Gendarmerie Action Group and RAID, Research, Assistance, Intervention, and Deterrence. In this, France’s increased anti-terrorism legislation, the legalities have been respected and they have not attempted to counter the ideological dialogue of another culture. France preserves the right of citizens to express opinions if it is not done for the purpose of inciting violence.
Thousands of raids have been carried out in the last nine months with only a handful resulting in court proceedings, sparking public criticism for the continued mistreatment of innocent Muslims. If the critics would consider the lives that were saved by those accurate busts, one would think the outcome outweighed the means, however, logic in a crisis rarely meet. For the thousands of Muslims in France whose homes have been raided but found clean, patience and understanding are hard commodities to come by.
Despite some of France’s anti-terrorist methods, they are committed to their less invasive counter-extremism program. Forty-five million euros is allocated to the new Stop Jihadism campaign. This campaign has three main agendas:
Education: France’s Ministry of Education has presented 11 measures to prevent radicalization and promote secular, republican values within France’s school system.
Prison: The French government has announced numerous measures to address the jihadist networks and radicalization crisis within its prison system.
Legislation and law enforcement: France has begun to enforce its November 2014 anti-terror law. As authorized by the new law, France has started to rescind the passports of suspected jihadists, and censor websites that promote jihadist ideology.
One portion considered slightly harsh ensures that the families left in France connected to known members of jihad groups receive no government assistance. Many portions of the program seem very fair. Several of the eleven measures adopted in the education sector could make a difference. There are the typical actions to restore Republican values, but there are also measures to encourage fewer students to drop out. The most encouraging action is getting the higher education institutions to help teach the whole society where fractures exist and why these fractures are increasing radicalization. Knowledge is always power, and this type of honesty will serve France well. These measures also allow higher education to those who would otherwise not have a chance to get it. Counter Extremism Project is a nonprofit NGO whose sole purpose is to remove the threat of terrorism through education and by lobbying for stronger laws and regulations. They have broken down all eleven measures of the Education agenda at http://www.counterextremism.com/ and the possible impact they could have on France’s future.
Unlike the proactive, non-aggressive counter extremism program, France ruffled feathers when they raided tent cities that were purportedly hurting tourism, and shut the doors to some mosques with a suspicion of terrorist activity. Numerous migrants living in Paris tent cities are fleeing East Africa. They are either seeking asylum in France or using Paris as a stepping stone to countries like Britain and Germany. Powerless to find shelter or work, migrants are forced into the impossible situation of living on the streets. Last summer police arrived at one of the largest tent cities located close by the Sacre Coeur Basilica and the train station. The ones seeking asylum were taken to housing to wait, while those hoping to make it out were taken to temporary, emergency quarters. This solution was perhaps better than ignoring the problem of thousands of homeless, but still obvious that France has little tolerance for the problem.
Northern France has tent cities with some of the foulest living conditions. The filth is overwhelming as is the spread of disease. There are some Muslim men who have British citizenship that has chosen to live in these tents to be with their wives and children who are not allowed into Britain yet. Critics question whether France chose to ignore the migrant homeless for so long because they were predominately Muslim, and that it was their hope that if they felt unwelcome they might leave. Unlike tent cities, France was left little choice other than shutting down several of its mosques.
Mosques are certainly conducive grounds for violent radicalization to take place. The radicals could then infiltrate the schools, sway impressionable youth, and spread discontent throughout the congregation. For every mosque closed several take its place, only the new places of worship are underground, making surveillance and monitoring much more difficult. The question then becomes, did France have a choice? They had unequivocal proof that these mosques’ leaders either knowingly or unknowingly housed terrorists and that terrorist acts were planned within.
Angel Rabasa and Cheryl Benard write in their book Eurojihad: Patterns of Islamist Radicalization and Terrorism in Europe, that authorities in France are less concerned now with established mosques and much more “…focused on smaller makeshift mosques located in apartments in low-income housing complexes.” Regrettably, there are many mosque Imams that are intelligent enough to make themselves appear mainstream while hiding radical elements and proselytizing radicalization. France’s counter-extremism program appears to be the best option today, that, and banding together with those countries equally committed to ending the Islamic State’s power. With these four strategies, anti-terrorism legislation, a counter-extremism program, the raiding and disbursement of migrant tent cities, and mosque closings, France has tackled the terrorism presence aggressively. This very aggression has kept terrorist’s eyes focused on France, but hopefully, it has made the Islamic State more cautious.
Current studies are addressing the question of what can be done about the fiasco of Muslim incorporation. There are three levels that need to be addressed, the micro or individual citizen, the meso or societal institutions, and the macro or state levels. All three levels have certain degrees of discrimination in France. After close examination, France has made countless errors in Muslim dealings throughout history into the present.
The colonization of territories by stronger powers did not begin or end with France. However, France’s treatment was far from generous toward Muslims. The disregard for Muslim beliefs followed Muslim immigrants to France. Discrimination is so rampant throughout the country, from its citizens to its government, that disillusionment and eventually resentment and anger have created a straightforward path to radicalism.
France is attempting to curb the worst of the racism, and working on programs that will hopefully de-radicalize those on the edge, but this type of solution seems far too weak to succeed. Nothing short of a complete overhaul will dilute discrimination and help the French Muslims. The United States has been struggling with racism since its inception, and though it is continually discussed, it is still present. The negative feelings for Muslims in France will not likely be easier to banish.
One of the toughest areas for all countries to target effectively is the intricate jihad networks. These networks begin with the Afghan-Arab movement and continue with entrepreneurs in radical cell formation and the “constant interplay between extremist networks in Europe and mujahidin in conflict zones.” Unfortunately, putting terrorists in prison is giving them another outlet to exploit their cause behind bars and further their plans through men that they might not have met otherwise.
There is no question that France is a big target for the Islamic State, not only for past and present transgressions but for its commitment to ending terrorism and strengthened legislation. Improved legislation might have some positive results, but entrepreneurial radicals with their own access to resources do not need to be integrated. They are the impetus, not a result of France’s failed assimilation practices. France, of course, is not, by any means, the only focus of terrorism, but their history and the current situation in the banlieues and prisons have allowed the networking strength of cells to permeate the country to such a degree that complete annihilation of the networks is a battle few could win. Solidarity will be the only saving grace for any of the countries caught in the crosshairs of the Islamic State.
Though The War for Muslim Minds was written over a decade ago, Gilles Kepel understood what one of the most important battles was for Muslim minds. Attacks are escalating by Muslims who have not lived their lives in predominately Islamic countries, but rather in communities throughout Europe and the United States. Kepel explains that the battle for Muslim minds will not be fought “…in Palestine or Iraq but in these communities of believers on the outskirts of London, Paris, and other European cities, where Islam is already a growing part of the West,” and that “If European societies are able to integrate these Muslim populations…this new generation of Muslims may become the Islamic vanguard of the next decade,” saving countries who are crippled in deadlocked politics.
The French brought discord on foreign soil through colonization. They further alienated their Muslim citizens and emigrants who made their home in France. Isolating Muslims in suburban ghettos encouraged separation. When terrorist acts increased against France, tensions between non-Muslim French citizens and French Muslims became increasingly stressed as the government supported the stricter anti-terrorism legislation. It is because of these three main reasons that France has found itself fighting terrorists from outside and inside their own borders.
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