In 2011, as the Charlie Hebdo killers were learning their jihadi trade, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told his country that it had suffered a major societal defeat.
Multiculturalism, Europe’s grand experiment in expanded immigration, had failed in France — or, as Mr. Sarkozy put it, “It’s a defeat.”
Today, in the aftermath of the Jan. 7 slaughter of 17 people by Muslim jihadis, the socialist government of President Francois Hollande has turned an even starker phrase: ethnic apartheid.
The Hollande government last week announced steps to increase counterterrorism surveillance and to intervene in the classroom to blunt the message of radical Islam. Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned of a “territorial, social and ethnic apartheid that has developed in our country.”
Some three years ago, Mr. Sarkozy hinted at growing segregation, singling out as the problem segments of a Muslim population that is the largest in Europe, estimated at about 10 percent of France’s 66 million people. He criticized some Muslims for pushing a cultural clash with France by insisting on veiled women and by praying “in an ostentatious way in the street.”
“We do not want on the territory of the French Republic the proliferation of aggressive religion,” he said. “We do not want, for example, that imams can preach violence.”
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That same year, one of France’s leading think tanks, Institut Montaigne, issued a 2,000-page report on the “banlieues,” the low-income, high-unemployment suburbs where so many French Muslims live around Paris, Lyon, Marseilles and other cities. Led by Gilles Kepel, a leading Arabic authority, the study focused on the Seine-Saint Denis district north of Paris, home to 600,000 Muslims.
The study wrote of “separate Islamic societies” parallel to France’s. To describe the district and its residents, it used words such as “isolation,” “wasteland of the deindustrialization,” “radical rejection of France” and “Islamic values of community closure.”
Those warnings took on new urgency this month when three homegrown Muslims extremists, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, committed mass slayings at a satiric magazine and a kosher Jewish grocery store. The Kouachis had bonded with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Coulibaly had ties to the Islamic State, a particularly violent Sunni Muslim army.
How did France arrive at a time in history when the word “apartheid” is invoked to describe the republic?
Some blame a balky economy that cannot kept up with immigration from France’s former colonies. Some blame French indifference.
Among the post-massacre debate topics is, to what degree did France, in practice, cede control of poor, majority Muslim neighborhoods — what some call “no-go zones” — to a nexus of criminal gangs and hard-line imams.
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Some American TV analysts inaccurately stated that all of France’s 700-plus “sensitive urban zones” were totally isolated and ruled by harsh Muslim Shariah law, with government consent. That prompted liberal media, on the lookout for “Islamophobia,” to respond that France has no “no go” neighborhoods.
The problem may be one of definition: Scholars who have studied France’s Islamization say that if “no go” means a neighborhood generally isolated from the rest of France, where police will not always go and where criminal gangs and Islamists wield considerable control, then France indeed has no-go areas.
When Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, gave a speech about the dangers of Muslim extremists and warning against no-go zones cropping up in the U.S., liberal media ridiculed him. Some demanded he name the zones in France.
But multiple scholars and reporters, on both sides of the Atlantic, have written in detail about the phenomenon.
Andrew Hussey, a British scholar who lives in Paris, last year published “The French Intifada.” The book chronicles France’s long wars against Arabs in the Middle East, former North African colonies and, now, inside France itself. He calls France a front line in “The Fourth World War.”
Bagneux, one of the notorious banlieues south of Paris and home to Coulibaly, who killed a police woman and four Jewish Frenchmen before he was killed, qualifies as one such zone, Mr. Hussey said.
“The Tribu Ka are regarded as the real masters of Bagneux,” Mr. Hussey wrote, referring to a black Muslim supremacist gang that now goes by its leader’s name, Generation Kemi Seba.
As Mr. Hussey and a guide explore the area, he wrote, “we soon entered a dark labyrinth of grey, crumbling concrete. This was ‘Darfour City,’ a series of rectangular blocks of mostly boarded-up flats where the local drug dealers gathered. The police call it a ‘quartier orange,’ largely a no-go area for the police themselves as well as for ordinary citizens.”
After riots in 2012 rocked the northern city of Amiens in its largely Muslim northern quarter, Mayor Gilles Demailly, a socialist, said, “You’ve got gangs of youths playing at being gangsters who have turned the area into a no-go zone. You can no longer order a pizza or get a doctor to come to the house.”
Fabrice Balanche, a professor at the University of Lyon, told Swiss TV in September that “mini-Islamic states” coexist in France. He specifically mentioned Marseilles, France’s second-largest city, with a Muslim population estimated at 25 percent.
“The authority of state is completely absent and therefore mini-Islamic states were formed,” he said.
A Muslim-dominated neighborhood in the southern city of Toulouse also seems to fit the definition of a no-go area.
The newspaper Le Figaro in May 2012 depicted the neighborhood as one dominated by drugs and guns, home to one of France’s most deadly jihadis, Mohamed Merah. Residents complain that police withdraw at night, foreigners are warned to stay away and municipal offices are vacated “because agents have exercised their right of withdrawal.” The mayor called this neighborhood “an area of lawlessness.”
The previous March, Merah, who had traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, armed himself with pistols, got on a scooter and went on a killing spree. His last victims were three children at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school. He grabbed one girl by the hair and shot her in the temple.
He told a TV channel that he killed to “uphold the honor of Islam,” according to press reports. Police killed him after a standoff at his Toulouse apartment.
Soeren Kern is a French-speaking analyst at the Gatestone Institute, a think tank led by former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John R. Bolton. Mr. Kern writes an annual report on the “Islamization of France,” paying particular attention to French press reports, government and think tank research, and official statements.
What differentiates France’s Muslim-dominated banlieues from being just “bad neighborhoods,” he said, is the degree of anti-France sentiment as well as the injection of radical Islam ideology, with some pushing Shariah law on the young.
Lack of understanding
Press ridicule of Mr. Jindal, he said in a post this month, shows a lack of understanding of what is happening.
“The problem of no-go zones is well documented, but multiculturalists and their politically correct supporters vehemently deny that they exist,” he wrote. “Some are now engaged in a concerted campaign to discredit and even silence those who draw attention to the issue.”
Mr. Kern told The Washington Times that bringing up the Muslim problem in France can result in countercharges that one is an “Islamophobe,” or racist, or the far right.
“The problem is there is a permanent underclass and these kids grow up in these banlieues and they can’t get out. There’s just no hope.”
Mr. Kern and other researchers say there is evidence that Muslim extremism is preached inside the banlieues. The fact that an estimated 1,000 French Muslims left the country for the Islamic State is one indication. Just last week, the French government said it would now surveil around 3,000 residents tied to terrorism.
Then there were the open, defiant mass prayers, shutting down intersections and blocking traffic, to which Mr. Sarkozy alluded. They were outlawed in 2012. France also barred the wearing of women’s face-covering niqabs and full-body burkas.
France works to keep its public school system rigorously secular. That stance, too, is being tested by Muslims.
In October, Le Figaro reported on a secret intelligence report under the headline “The Muslim communalism defies school.”
Mr. Kern said “communalism” refers to the “practice of Muslim allegiance to their own ethnic, religious groups rather than to the society at large.”
“Insidiously, the Muslim communalism [is] seeking to gain ground in the French education system” in Muslim-dominated areas, said Le Figaro.
The intelligence report tells of “chronic absenteeism” of 90 percent during Muslim holidays not recognized by the state, “clandestine prayer in gyms and hallways,” and “young guardians of orthodoxy” exerting pressure on Muslim girls.
As criminal gangs came to dominate neighborhoods in some banlieues, the French government made decisions that, some analysts believe, paved the way for mini-Islamic states within France.
Municipal officials turned to various Islamic associations to guide rebellious youths and, in return, granted them official recognition, said Clara Beyler, who authored a 2006 Hudson Institute report titled “The Jihadist Threat in France.”
She quotes a French Christian preacher as saying the Muslim Youth Association, for example, triggered “hardening of religious identities.”
“Other associations held to be non-profit … were nothing more than terrorist fronts,” Ms. Beyler wrote.
A 2004 book on Islam in France quotes Tokia Saifi, who was secretary of state for durable development, as saying the “fundamental mistake made by the officials” was handing “the keys of the neighborhood to Islamists” in exchange for peace, such as an end to setting cars on fire.
Paris press reports say the government estimates that 30,000 cars were set on fire in 2013 alone as acts of defiance.
In September 2005, a former French intelligence analyst released his study, “Development of Islam Fundamentalist in France.”
“The rise of radical Islam is largely concentrated in the most sensitive French suburbs,” wrote Eric Denece, who founded the French Center for Intelligence Research. “Over the past three decades, France let its inner cities become real powder kegs. In lawless areas, the fundamentalism has used the failure of the state because it thrives wherever there is frustration.”
He said Islamists boast that they one day will begin to win local elections and “they will be free to impose Shariah law in the municipalities under their control.”
He told of some women giving birth in burqas. Husbands not letting male medical staff touch their wives. Muslim workers demanding increasingly strict religious accommodations.
In one year alone, the author wrote, France deported seven radical Islamic preachers.
Mr. Denece interviewed Muslims and law enforcement authorities. He concluded in 2005 that about 500,000 Muslims in France adhere to hard-line Islam. Perhaps 5,000 are jihadis.
‘Explosion in the suburbs’
Predicting an “explosion in the suburbs,” Mr. Denece proved prescient. A month later, Greater Paris erupted into full-scale riots by mostly Arab and black youths in the banlieues, triggered by a fatal encounter between Muslim youths and French police in Paris.
Angel Rabasa, an analyst at the Rand Corp. who co-authored the book “Eurojihad,” said the root cause of Muslim segregation in France is a lack of jobs. France’s economy, he said, is simply not structured to promote large, sustained growth that would create more opportunity for idle immigrant youths.
France’s Muslim population is projected to keep growing. The Pew Research Center estimated the count at 4.7 million at the end of 2010, or 7.5 percent. Mr. Kern said that based on Pew’s projections, there are likely over 6 million Muslims in France today, approaching 10 percent of the population.
Unlike the U.S., the French government does not take a census based on ethnic origin or race.
The lack of jobs leaves young French Arabs of North African origin open to lives of crime and radicalization.
“Prisons are the breeding ground even more so than the neighborhoods,” Mr. Rabasa said. “That is the relationship because individuals marginalized in the banlieues are the ones who turn to petty crime and then they get arrested and then they get sent to prison and then in prison they get radicalized.”
Mr. Hussey, author of “The French Intifada: The Long War Between France and Its Arabs,” said the government has been blind to the radicalization movement in prisons, whose inmate population he estimates at 70 percent Muslim.
Even from outside the walls, radical Islam can exert control inside.
“Islam in prison has a strange status in France; everybody knows that it is a significant force, but everyone denies it,” Mr. Hussey wrote. “It is hard to find imams who will work in prisons, for fear of recrimination in their own communities.”
Mr. Hussey concludes: “Until this ceases to be the case, the unacknowledged civil war between France and its disturbed suburbs — one of the most complex and fragile front lines in the Fourth World War — will go on. The positions and tactics of the immigrants of the banlieues — their identification with Palestine, their hatred of France — reveal the struggle to be part of the ‘long war,’ just like those caught up in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”