French Mus­lims fear deeper di­vide af­ter Paris at­tacks

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Serene As­sir

Afire­man of Al­ge­rian ori­gin, Faisal helped evac­u­ate thou­sands from the Stade de France dur­ing the Paris at­tacks, guid­ing pan­icked foot­ball fans to safety as sui­cide bombers blew them­selves up out­side. Now he fears the Nov 13 mas­sacre across the French cap­i­tal will deepen a dan­ger­ous “them and us” schism be­tween France’s five-mil­lion-strong Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion and the rest of so­ci­ety. The ji­hadists be­hind the at­tacks ap­pear to be Euro­peans of Arab ori­gin, and the 40year-old fire­man wor­ries that French Mus­lims may suf­fer greater dis­crim­i­na­tion as a re­sult.

“If you have a Mus­lim name, they stop see­ing you as a French per­son and they start to see you as an Arab, a po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist,” Faisal said. The at­tacks will also ex­ac­er­bate an ex­ist­ing prob­lem, he fears - that many Mus­lims don’t feel part of France, and even re­sent it. And that re­sent­ment is pre­cisely what the Is­lamic State group seeks to ex­ploit. Like oth­ers around Boule­vard Barbes, a bustling mi­cro­cosm of Paris’ sec­ond and third-gen­er­a­tion eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties, Faisal con­demned the at­tacks out­right.

“I was work­ing in­side the Stade de France Fri­day night when we got the call on the ra­dio to evac­u­ate ev­ery­one. But when this kind of at­tack hap­pens, it deep­ens the sep­a­ra­tion be­tween us and the rest of so­ci­ety,” the fire­man said. France’s Mus­lim com­mu­nity - the largest in Europe - is as di­verse as the coun­try it­self. But there are many who voice anx­i­ety about their place in a coun­try with a bloody colo­nial history in North Africa and a com­mit­ment to sec­u­lar­ism that some see as con­tra­dic­tory with Is­lamic tra­di­tions. This anx­i­ety spiked as politi­cians such as ex-prime min­is­ter Alain Juppe call­ing on Mus­lims to pub­licly “say they have noth­ing to do with this bar­barism”. “Mus­lims do not have to jus­tify them­selves... Are they guilty by as­so­ci­a­tion?” re­sponded an opin­ion piece writer, Hatem Nafti, in left-lean­ing daily Lib­er­a­tion.

Alien­ation

French-born Mo­ham­mad, a 30-year-old Al­ge­rian CD and DVD shop owner in Barbes, and his friend Samir did some painful soul-search­ing. “The prob­lem is with how they treated im­mi­grants to be­gin with (40-50 years ago). They put the Arabs in (sprawl­ing sub­ur­ban ar­eas) far from ev­ery­one else,” Mo­ham­mad said, ner­vously puff­ing at a Marl­boro cig­a­rette.

Decades af­ter the first ma­jor waves of mi­gra­tion in the 1960s, many thou­sands of peo­ple still live in low-cost hous­ing projects in Paris’ down­trod­den ban­lieue (sub­urbs), where petty crime is rife and life is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the glit­ter­ing city cen­tre. Jobs are harder to come by, with un­em­ploy­ment es­ti­mated in 2013 at 23 per­cent in con­trast with nine per­cent else­where in the city. The sub­urbs - and also parts of the 18th dis­trict, where Barbes is lo­cated - saw ma­jor ri­ots in 2005 that em­pha­sised the alien­ation. It is this feel­ing of dis­en­fran­chise­ment that can be ex­ploited by IS, warn re­searchers, with peo­ple on the fringes drawn to a move­ment that can give mis­guided aims to di­rec­tion­less youth.

‘Dis-in­te­gra­tion’

Di­dier Lapey­ron­nie, who teaches so­ci­ol­ogy at Paris’ La Sor­bonne univer­sity, said many French Mus­lims “do not feel like they are part of the na­tional com­mu­nity”. And for a tiny mi­nor­ity, ji­hadism can be used to build an al­ter­na­tive world­view. “Ter­ror­ism is not nec­es­sar­ily linked to marginal­i­sa­tion,” Lapey­ron­nie said, adding how­ever that “in some ar­eas... a counter-cul­ture, a counter-so­ci­ety has been cre­ated, and Is­lam is used to con­struct a world­view.”“There is a po­lit­i­cal fail­ure of the in­te­gra­tion model... a process of dis-in­te­gra­tion,” he said. Paris-based ex­pert Karim Bi­tar says IS takes full ad­van­tage of this. The group “has a well-honed dual strat­egy of tap­ping into feel­ings of hu­mil­i­a­tion of Sun­nis in Iraq and Syria and si­mul­ta­ne­ously ex­ploit­ing the alien­ation of dis­en­fran­chised Mus­lim youth in Europe,” he told AFP. Some 1,000 French men and women have joined IS in Iraq and Syria. The group has “ev­ery­thing to gain from re­cruit­ing French youth: they im­prove their op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties con­sid­er­ably and they psy­cho­log­i­cally score a vic­tory by sharp­en­ing the con­tra­dic­tions within Western so­ci­eties,” said Bi­tar of the In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional and Strate­gic Af­fairs.

‘In it for the Adrenalin’

Euro­pean re­cruits do not nec­es­sar­ily know much about Is­lam at all, nor are they nec­es­sar­ily seek­ing to es­cape a life of want. Two of the Paris at­tack­ers, Brahim and Salah Ab­del­slam, ran a bar in Bel­gium which was shut down be­cause of re­ports that cus­tomers smoked mar­i­juana there. Ji­hadist re­cruits “are of­ten in it for the adrenalin, the ad­ven­ture, the ex­cite­ment and to es­cape their ex­is­ten­tial malaise,” Bi­tar said. Wear­ing his hair close-shaven and a black leather jacket, Samir in the Barbes mu­sic shop agreed. “They (the ji­hadists) re­cruit peo­ple with crim­i­nal records on­line to do their dirty work, offering them pro­tec­tion,” said Samir, a se­cu­rity guard, as elec­tronic Al­ge­rian pop boomed in the back­ground. “It hurts that they don’t see the dif­fer­ence be­tween me and the ter­ror­ists.” —AFP

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