France has a Muslim problem.
When President Obama walked onto a stage and decreed the Paris attacks, an attack on humanity, he wasn’t just being presidential. Perhaps he views the two countries as neighbouring houses in an Amish town whose austere peaceful lives were wrongly disturbed. The sense of wronging is further exacerbated by the identity of the perpetrators, who in this case come from a long line of recipients… recipients of American and French fireworks. Fireworks, gunpowder, intervention. Call it what you will. The United States and France have been jointly raining down freedoms & liberté over Middle-eastern lands for a while now. They have long been natural allies in the war-on-prettymuchanything. Brothers in arms. Their sense of loss is mutual as it appears is their shared sense of humanity.
The people of Beirut or of Baghdad whose families were subject to similar violence this week haven’t been accorded the same humanity. No head of state in the civilised world deemed their grief worthy of mention. Facebook did not passionately implore you to brush your teeth with their flags. No candles of condolence were lit outside their embassies. Death in those lands it is understood is just an everyday reality. Their domestic realities stem from locally grown produce. You reap what you sow. France on the other hand, is not one of those countries with those domestic issues. Or is it?
Presently the largest Muslim population in Europe, with estimates between 8-10%, France’s Islamic inhabitants make up a sizeable minority of Arab, North African and Sub-Saharan descent. A lot of these numbers are the remnants of France’s colonial legacy. One of the largest colonial powers of the centuries past, France held enormous swathes of real estate all over the world, especially in North Africa. Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Djibouti and almost all of West & Equatorial Africa have at some point been French possessions, most of whom were not acquired simply by asking nicely. Their later narratives of liberation are fraught with infinitely bloody stories of torture & repression. The famous Algerian war of independence against French occupation witnessed 1.5 million deaths. The infamous Setif massacre by French forces left 45000 people dead. In 1945, General Charles De Gaulle, after whom Paris airport is now proudly named, responded to a general strike in Damascus Syria by ordering a French warship to bombard the city for three days. In 2015, airplanes sporting the French tricolour continue to garland these lands with airstrikes. Clearly, the Levant & Maghreb have always had a troubled relationship with France.
In the 70s however, reeling under deep economic crisis and hoping to address its labour problems, France actively opened its doors to immigrants from the same lands. It was this wave that brought hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and their families to the big cities of the republic. Many of them highly skilled workers who left their countries in pursuit of better lives for their children. The French dream unfortunately, still remains a pipe dream for most. Congregated in the banlieue ghettos and plagued by poverty & unemployment, post-colonial migrants suffer wholesome abandonment at the hands of the French state every day. Radical ethno-racial discrimination in the public school system has resulted in disproportionately high percentages of school dropouts among post-colonial youths. There is documented evidence highlighting how the public school system targeted immigrant kids for expulsion to force them into blue-collar vocations.The state’s aggressive ideas about secularism or laicite, haven’t helped matters either. A recent court ruling that upheld some schools’ decision to serve pork-only meals at school diners sets an alarming precedent. School-children are now faced with a choice between eating pork or going hungry. Then there was L’affaire du Voile, the banning of headscarves in schools and public offices. Predictably, these happenings are perceived by the community as deliberate attempts to corner and harass the minorities in an increasingly Us-vs-them situation. The Observatoire Des Discrimination in 2004, also documented studies of large-scale discrimination by employers against people with Arab-sounding names. In this state of affairs, the disenchantment with the state seems rather well-founded. The 2005 riots being a case in point, children of immigrants frustrated over unemployment and increasing police brutality in the poorer housing estates brought the country to a virtual standstill for weeks with a national State of Emergency being imposed by then President Jacques Chirac.
Perhaps the most worrisome indicator of the direction this mess is headed towards, is the fact that France’s prison population is 70 per cent Muslim. This despite Muslims numbering only about 8% of the populace. The prison system in France is now notoriously acknowledged as being a hot-bed of Islamic radicalisation. The ingredients are all here and home grown. The poverty & segregation, the ethno-racial alienation and targeted job discrimination, the unemployment and the unemployability. Add some intégrisme and laïcité … et Voila!
Of all the ISIS foreign fighters currently in Syria, the largest numbers, about 900 came from France. Surely, there is a problem somewhere.