The Friday the 13th Massacre has led France to declare itself at war. A 90 day state of emergency is in effect and many basic liberties are suspended. Magistrates are sidelined while the police call the shots. Only six out of 577 Members of Parliament voted against the emergency measures. This is the result of Frenchmen, born and raised in France, who took up arms against their compatriots. While France bombs Syria in a bid to deflect the real problem the debate we should be having is not being held: ‘Why did this happen?’ and yes, ‘Does Islam have anything to do with it?’
There are those around Europe who argue that these young people have flocked to radical Islam because they have had their dignity taken away from them in France. Young Muslims in the ‘Banlieues’ have no future; they are caged in their housing projects; discriminated against by French society; victims of daily racism and suffer from high unemployment, from 20% to 40%. This is a problem “Made in France” they say. I have heard some go as far as to say that if they were a Muslim in France they would shoot people too. In other words, their violence has little or nothing to do with Islam itself and everything to do with the anger and rage of being a third-class citizen.
Others will argue that France has been generous. They got a first-class free education; universal free health care; subsidized housing and generous family allotment welfare checks which increase with the size of the family and these people have large families; free cultural and sports activities in their towns; free vocational training and case workers to help find a job; a minimum monthly check (e.g. 1,100 euros for a couple with two children) and the list goes on, all thanks to the hard working tax-payer. They also point out that these are things the Muslims cannot get in the countries where their parents and grand-parents came from.
Whatever side one finds himself on, the question must begin with the Muslim community. All previous waves of immigration (Polish, Portuguese, Italian, Armenian, Spanish) totally assimilated to such a point that they are indistinguishable from ethnic French from the first generation. Only the Indochinese community (arrived in the late 1970s) has remained hermetic from the French but have caused no social problems, unlike the Muslim community which immigrated in the 1960s and 1970s.
There are many examples which demonstrate large sections of the Arabs and Muslims in France have not adopted the values of the country which took them in.
Forty percent of the Tunisians in France, many second and third generation who have duel citizenship, voted for the Islamic Ennadha party in 2011. What does it mean to be born, raised and educated in France and vote for a party which wants Sharia law? Does that mean these French nationals would like the same thing here? We certainly cannot blame ISIS or al qaeda for their choice. Bombing Syria is not going to make them secular republicans. The French school system totally failed in its proclaimed mission to transfer the secular message of a republican democracy.
And what of the immigrant parents and grandparents? Why did they stay glued to their culture of origin rather than embrace the country which offered them a better life? The result is, social workers will tell you, that these Muslim youth have no clear identity. They are too removed from, and don’t know enough about, the culture of origin and they don’t feel French. And if the Salafist Imam on the corner is willing to give them an ‘identity with dignity’ many of these under-educated and unemployed youth will jump at it. Fan the flames of rage and hate (because we are speaking of hate) and it is not a big step to get a fraction of these angry young people to die for the ‘Allah’ that gives them the feeling they are someone and not just the ‘losers’ they really are (oups!).
This time id different. Muslims in France now feel the heat. Very few came out after the Charlie Hebdo attack last January to denounce what was done in their name. But given the massive outrage at the Friday the 13th Massacre and a tangible reaction among ‘ethnic French’ to single out the Muslim community as a whole, and with regional Elections in two week’s time, which the far right, anti-immigrant, National Front is expected to sweep, Muslims are out in mass, this time, claiming their’s is a “religion of peace.” This is probably too little, too late.