Following the Paris attacks on Friday, many commentators—and the Islamic State group itself—insisted that France was targeted because of its military involvement in Syria since August 2014.
First of all, one fact can not be highlighted enough: France is not Daesh’s (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group) first target in terms of number of victims. Daesh kills many more people every month in Arab countries like Syria or in Iraq than in France. For example, on Thursday, 43 people died in a bombing attack in Beirut; in Iraq 714 people died just in October.
Kevien Amiel’s interpretation of Eugene Delacroix’ “Liberty Leading the People.” | Photo: Kevin Amiel
Second, although French foreign policy should be criticized for many reasons, it hides a deeper cause that explains why France, more than any other Western country fighting in Syria, is a stronger breeding ground for Daesh: French domestic policy toward its Muslim communities has failed to address discrimination they have suffered since Algerian decolonization. One meaningful fact has come out of the current investigation on Friday’s assailants: out of the five identified so far, four were French citizens—not Syrian.
Jean-Pierre Filiu, professor of History (Sciences Po Paris), commenting on the attack on the public radio station France Inter, urged commentators who blamed French intervention in Syria “to stop playing the game of the terrorists, as if this was a backlash against what our foreign policy should be.”
With “immense pain and emotion,” Filiu argued that Daesh's purpose was to start “a civil war in France.” He added, “What they want, is that today in Paris and in France, people start killing Muslims as reprisal.”
For numerous reasons, France contains the perfect conditions for radicalization to grow within both radical Muslim and non-Muslim communities, potentially leading to violent internal conflict—which in the end would help Daesh gain more supporters and power.
N'oublions pas que le second danger du terrorisme, ce sont les marchands de mauvaises solutions attirés par l'odeur du sang. Ils arrivent.— Maitre Eolas ✏️ (@Maitre_Eolas) 14 Novembre 2015
“Let’s not forget that the second danger of terrorism are the merchants of bad solutions attracted by the smell of blood. They are coming.”
First, France hosts the largest communities of Muslims (and Jews) in Europe. For this reason, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism usually grow in similar proportions, as if they were feeding each other. Daesh’s strategy of “divide and conquer” could not work better than in France—see for instance how an escalation of violence in Palestine usually degenerates into violence in France. The growing popularity of far-right ideas, and in general the growing racism in France, seems to confirm that more and more French non-Muslims tend to forget that Muslims in the world are Daesh’s number one victims, and often conflate Daesh fighters with Muslims in general.
The geographic proximity and the recent history of colonization of France in North Africa also play an important role in explaining why the United States or Great Britain have not been affected as much by Daesh. According to a report the French Senate issued in April, more French citizens joined Syria and Iraq than any of their European counterparts, followed by Morocco and Tunisia, two former French colonies.
However, the fact that France has the biggest Muslim population in Europe merely represents a fertile ground for Daesh to indoctrinate future supporters: but mainly, the French state has cultivated the seed itself.
However, the fact that France has the biggest Muslim population in Europe merely represents a fertile ground for Daesh to indoctrinate future supporters: but mainly, the French state has cultivated the seed itself. French Muslim minorities have been suffering for decades from the same miseries as their Black counterparts in the United States, such as high unemployment rates and police brutality, which especially affects the youth living in urban suburbs. However, decades after pacific mobilizations (since the early 1980s), then urban riots (in the 1990s, with a peak in 2005), unemployment rates and police harassment of these populations remain higher than ever.
Still, political leaders never really understood the political meaning of the 2005 riots in Paris. As a result, one decade later, the suburban youth do not even bother to collectively demonstrate their anger. This political disenfranchisement has allowed individuals to become targets for radicalization. Becoming jihad fighters allows them to positively reverse the exclusion they passively endure, and to define themselves as heroes (compared to the petty criminals they often used to turn into, for instance)—many sociological studies on radicalization in France have shown.
Unsurprisingly, one of the identified assailants in Friday’s attack was a 29-year-old man born in Courcouronnes (a Parisian suburb), who had eight convictions for common law offenses. Charlie Hebdo's assailants, the brothers Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, had the same profile, confirming that French foreign policy in Syria also consists in a more “noble” pretext than Daesh and its fighters use to justify blind acts of violence—just as they do with Islam.
The house where Omar Ismail Mostefai allegedly lived between 2010 and 2012. | Photo: AFP
Anti-terrorism Judge Marc Trevidic, who interviewed dozens of (potential or not) terrorists, confirmed this pattern in an interview earlier in June: “In 90 percent of cases, people who leave the country to fight for the jihad do so for personal reasons ... because they don't find their place in society; only 10 percent do it for religious reasons.”
Daesh masterminds have set up a simple strategy, he recalled after Friday’s attacks: gaining support from the French Muslim communities will be achieved if they are “hit hard” (meaning: discriminated).
The French state fell into the trap by never addressing the issues properly. In June for instance, a Paris court condemned the French state for racial discrimination related to police identity controls. However, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls appealed the ruling in October, and repeated he will not implement any system of control on police officers—yet it is a long-standing demand of anti-racist organizations, and an electoral promise current President Francois Hollande made back in 2010.
In May, Hollande also refused to implement anonymous CVs in order to reduce discriminatory hiring procedures, despite a damning 2008 report from the Ministry of Interior proving French citizens with (North) African origins did not enjoy equal job opportunities.
Daesh hit France where it hurts most: the former colonial power has never been able to properly apply its universalist and tolerant principles to its Muslim minorities.
In this sense, Daesh hit France where it hurts most: the former colonial power has never been able to properly apply its universalist and tolerant principles to its Muslim minorities, as illustrated by the many controversies over the Muslim veil in the past two decades. The tolerant principle of secularism (“laicite”), for instance, was originally implemented in 1905 to allow French citizens to practice the religion they desired, instead of Catholicism—until then defined as “the French state’s religion.”
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But a century later, French politicians started interpreting secularism as religious neutrality that not only public officials should adopt to guarantee the individual freedom of practicing any religion, but also individuals (at school, at work, etc), by de facto reducing their freedom to practice their religion in public places. This interpretation was first promoted by the far right (directed against the Muslim minorities); because secularism was originally a progressive and tolerant principle that founded the French Republic, political leaders of all leanings, including the French left gradually got confused and adhered to this interpretation, forgetting its tolerant origin. Meanwhile, Muslim minorities have growingly perceived this principle as the incarnation of French intolerance of their religion.
Sadly, current events are proving that polarization between the French Muslims and non-Muslims is worsening, potentially helping Daesh achieve their objective: a civil war-like situation. The fact that the attacks targeted progressive sectors of French society (Charlie Hebdo left-leaning cartoonists, and the Parisian youth who cohabit with Muslims in a multicultural Parisian neighborhood) perfectly fits into Daesh strategy: turning these moderate sectors who used to defend Muslim minorities against Islam in general, out of sadness and anger.
“Here, [in the Cannibale bar], we serve as many bearded hipsters as bearded Muslims,” Cannibale’s director to AFP.
More worryingly, the French state's response to both January's and Friday's attacks shows that Daesh’s strategy is clearly paying off: today, socialist President Hollande decided to implement draconian measures through martial law that the far-right National Front has demanded since the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
Des frappes en 24h, un Patriot Act en moins de 48, tous les politiques qui aboient à la guerre. Il est bien ce François Bush.— L'Humour de Droite (@humourdedroite) 16 Novembre 2015
“Airstrikes within 24 hours, a Patriot Act within 48, all politicians barking about war. This Francois Bush is a good one.” From Twitter account Right Wing Humor.
Meanwhile, the fact that (allegedly) an assailant “carelessly” left his Syrian passport registered as a refugee in Greece in the attack could not fit more conveniently into both Daesh’s and the French far-right narratives, who both use violence and hatred as a profitable business.
As Marx said once, history repeats itself twice, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
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