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Heavy-Handed Politics

"€œGod willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world
without the United States and Zionism."€ -- Iran President Ahmadi-Nejad

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Should the French be Worried?

In an interview with Dr. Soner Cagaptay, an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow and director of The Washington Institute's Turkish Research Program he commented on the Muslim situation in France.
Here is the picture: percentage-wise as well as in cumulative terms, France has the largest Muslim community in the EU. There are no official figures, since France does not collect numbers on religious affiliation, but according to official estimates, there are 6 million Muslims in France, that is 10 percent of the population. Unofficial estimates point at an even higher figure, suggesting as many as 8-9 million Muslims. What is more, given the low birth rate in the general French society, and the continuing immigration of Muslims from North Africa, this number is bound to increase.

The issue I would like to raise in this context is not that we should be concerned that there are so many Muslims in France, rather it is that the Muslims in France see themselves at the margins of the society and resent that fact. The Muslims in France are the worst integrated Muslim community in any EU country. Mass Muslim immigration to France is a post-WWII development. Many came from North Africa, especially Algeria, to look for jobs. However, France has done a terrible job in integrating them. The benign founding myth of the French state, that there are no differences between the citizens, has worked against the integration of the Muslims. On the one hand, from the very beginning, Muslims in France, already from a background of conservative--rural Islam, had few avenues towards assimilation into the metropolitan French society, and on the other, the society has acted as if these barriers do no exist.

The end result is that vast segments of the Muslim population in France have little to do with the rest of the society. There are for instance no Muslims in the French parliament, and when is the last time anyone met a Muslim diplomat representing France? The banlieus of Paris, Marseilles, and other major French cities are full of disgruntled and poor North African Muslims today, who feel discriminated in the school system, in the public sector and in access to government services. The bottom line is that elite institutions, means of upward mobility, as well as quality government services are in accessible to most Muslims in France. What is more, with the rise of radicalism in the 1990s, these neighborhoods are now under the effective control of fundamentalist Muslims. If I were French, I would be very worried.


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