A man walks through debris scatterd on the street the day after a truck ran into a crowd at high speed killing scores celebrating the Bastille Day July 14 national holiday on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, July 15, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD)
Analysts, academics and so-called experts continually point out two things when trying to explain the waves of terrorism France has faced in recent years. First, France’s 135-year reign over Algeria is often cited as being the main impetus for its struggles with, and the pervasiveness of, radical Islam within their country. The second main point, which is usually raised as a byproduct of the first, is that French Muslims have been unable, both socially and economically, to integrate into French society on any meaningful level.
While these points and events are undoubtedly part of the bigger picture that’s led to the current crisis in France, they imply that France is in some way responsible for the mess they find themselves in. This way of thinking is not only myopic, it’s offensive. France, you are not to blame.
In 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte convened a little meeting called the Great Sanhedrin, named after the Jewish high court in ancient Israel.
Napoleon didn’t feel like the Jews were integrating fast enough into French society, and so he organized a meeting with Jewish leaders to see where their allegiances lay; in Judaism, or in France? They were forced to choose. Over 130 years later at the onset of the Holocaust, Jews once again found themselves having to make life and death decisions in order to stay in France. Through 1940-1944, the Vichy Government in France headed by Philippe Pétain willingly collaborated with the Nazis and assisted them in rounding up the Jews for deportation. Over 70,000 Jews were taken from their homes. Most of them perished in concentration camps. Even to this day, Jews are fleeing France in record numbers because of rising anti-Semitism.
So, what about Jewish uprisings and terrorist attacks throughout France? That minority group has certainly seen its fair share of exclusion, so why have they never revolted in the same way? What about the black community in France? Millions of French citizens, most of whom are Catholic, claim African or Caribbean heritage.
The Representative Council of Black Associations in France has stated that between four and six percent of France’s total population identifies as being of African and French West Indian descent. This minority group faces its fair share of racism and blatant discrimination as well. In her August 2015 article “As an African American, Traveling to France Felt like a Rite of Passage. What I Found Was Far More Complicated,” Oakland-based freelance writer Lynn Brown discusses her firsthand account of divisive racial lines facing France’s black community. Brown says “black African immigrants to France often face discrimination with regards to housing, jobs and other basic necessities.”
So, why don’t we see any terrorist attacks from France’s black, Catholic population? These are questions we ought to consider further, before we point the finger at France for failing to integrate immigrants, or for being racist, or for its history of imperialism. A deeper question we ought to ask is whether or not societal integration is the responsibility of the state, or if it is a shared responsibility with the immigrant. We may also want to ask ourselves questions about Islamic identity, and explore why Muslims have more difficulty integrating in Western societies than any other minority group.
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That being said, if we take the average age of most of these attackers, it becomes clear that generally speaking, they’re second-generation Muslims, who for the most part lived in isolated urban communities.
Undoubtedly, there is a certain level of alienation from the broader democracy they live within, creating gravitation toward extremist Islamic movements. As a result, we’re seeing the creation of hardcore Islamic societies separate from the mainstream, but is this a product of alienation, or are the fundamental values of Islam the actual root cause of the marginalization?
One could argue that Islam, at its core, is intolerant of tolerance, which is completely at odds with Western society. It should also be noted that this idea or problem of Muslim integration is not simply limited to Europe or Western society – it’s also been a struggle in predominantly Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Turkey, wherein the underlying Islamic values are at odds with the rather secular systems of governance. That is to say, even in Muslim countries, for large swaths of the population, the country isn’t Muslim enough.
Before we point the finger at France, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and what the real cause may be.The author is a former adviser to Canada’s national defense minister (2011-2015), a graduate of the York Centre for International and Security Studies and a doctoral student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
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