January 30th 2016


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COVER STORY Dyson report only partial answer to union problems

CANBERRA OBSERVED No urgency but Turnbull will want to make his mark

NATIONAL AFFAIRS SA pays price of solar and wind generation

FRENCH POLITICS AND ISLAM Kepel scathing of French elites, Salafists and far-right Islamophobes

ENVIRONMENT New bushfire tragedies: when will we ever learn?

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Betrayal: Curia no friend to Russian Catholics

HISTORY OF TAIWAN From pivot of Dutch trade to Japanese outpost

LIFE ISSUES Victoria enacts law based on lies told to Parliament

LIFE ISSUES Euthanasia: a false start to end-of-life issues

ETHICS Book traces foundations of true civilisation

RELIGION AND SOCIETY A welcome in truth for the same-sex attracted

CINEMA The beauty beyond fear: The Good Dinosaur

BOOK REVIEW Secularism mars insights

BOOK REVIEW A novel for the remnant

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FRENCH POLITICS AND ISLAM
Kepel scathing of French elites, Salafists and far-right Islamophobes


by Patrick J. Byrne

News Weekly, January 30, 2016

The acclaimed authority on political Islam, Professor Gilles Kepel, says terrorists have failed to politically mobilise French Muslims behind them.

Academic and author

Gilles Kepel.

Kepel is scathing about the vortex created by France’s political elites (left and right) and the Salafi fundamentalism that together generated al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorism in France.

Terror in the Hexagon (“hexagon” refers to the geographical shape of France), co-authored by Kepel and Antoine Jardin from the Paris Institute of Political Studies, is the fruit of decades of research.

Rushed into print (in French) after the November terrorist attacks in Paris, it sold 100,000 copies in a month and is considered the most comprehensive history of the largest expression of home-grown ISIS-inspired terrorism in the West.

Kepel laments that for 50 years French elites have repeatedly wasted opportunities to resolve festering problems in the banlieue (the outer suburbs of major cities) by ignoring the legitimate demands of its population of North-African migrants and their descendants, mostly from former French colonies.

To ease French labour shortages after World War II, migration was encouraged from Vietnam, Algeria, other French African colonies and also Japan and Pakistan.

At the outbreak of the Algerian war of independence from France in 1954, there were 200,000 Algerian immigrants in France. The war led to growing tensions between the migrants and their French hosts, particularly when the pro-National Liberation Front stepped up bombings in France. Tensions culminated in the Paris Massacre in October 1961, when the police used force against an Algerian demonstration on the streets of Paris, killing about 40 people.

After Algeria gained its independence, another 350,000 to 700,000 Algerians migrated to France.

An opportunity to deal with the problems in the banlieue came in 1983, when dozens of young men of North-African origin staged a protest march from Marseille to Paris following a series of racist acts. They wanted jobs, equality and a bigger role in democratic life.

By the time they reached Paris, the march had swelled to 100,000. Had socialist president François Mitterrand taken them seriously, “We could have had a generation of role models who would have led the way” for the future generations, Kepel told the Financial Times.[1]

Instead, Mitterrand mostly ignored the grievances of these immigrants from the former colonies and their children, playing a Machiavellian political game with France’s National Front “to the point where the extreme right is today entrenched at the heart of French political life and in a position to hit the jackpot [win significant political power], while the marginalisation of the children of Muslim immigration has opened the floodgates to Salafisation and jihadism”.[2]

A second opportunity was lost in 2005 after riots and the burning of thousands of cars following the accidental deaths of two teenagers who hid from police in a power station. Fuel was added to the fire when police mistakenly fired tear gas into a local mosque.

This was the trigger for protests over the festering problems in the banlieue, where unemployment was over 50 per cent and petty crime flourished.

Instead of dealing with the core problems of unemployment and marginalisation from French society, then interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy played a similar Machiavellian game to that played by Mitterand two decades earlier. Taking a hard line against Muslims, Sarkozy won supporters away from the far-right National Front in the 2007 presidential campaign.

The traditional Muslim community reacted in 2012, when they helped elect President François Hollande and defeat Sarkozy.

Hollande’s election was a third opportunity to deal with the banlieue issues. Not only did he fail to tackle these problems, but traditional Muslims quickly divorced themselves from Hollande over the French President’s support for same-sex marriage.

Muslims joined Catholics in mass protests. They “marched together under the banner of conservative values, but also because of the aggravation of the economic crisis which heavily struck the suburban ghettos”, Kepel writes.

The period after the 2005 riots provided fertile terrain for France’s home-grown al-Qaeda and ISIS-inspired terrorism. The failure of the French elites to deal with core issues agitating the descendants of North-African migrants, who had largely drifted from their Islamic roots, resulted in a resurgence of Islam as an identifying factor in these communities. Islam became an “irrepressible identity marker” amid the economic and social hardship, discrimination and unemployment of the banlieue.

In particular, Salafism gained ground. It is doctrinaire and fundamentalist, calling for a return to “original” Islam. It is often regarded as an offshoot of Wahhabist doctrines exported from Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states.

Comprising only a tiny proportion of the Islamic world, there are three broad types of Salafis. The largest group is the purists (or quietists), who avoid politics; the second largest group are activists, who get involved in politics; the smallest group are the Salafi jihadists (the term was coined by Kepel) who form a small, yet infamous minority.[3]

Salafism may not be dominant among French Muslims, but Kepel says it “exercises a hegemony over Muslim discourse that stops other trends from emerging”.

2005 was a watershed year: Sarkozy was elected French president and failed to grasp the issues behind the riots in France; an al-Qaeda breakaway adviser wrote a new strategy that called for terrorist attacks in Europe to provoke civil war between Europeans and their Muslim communities; Youtube was registered, which later gave ISIS the ability to recruit and incite violence on the web; and at the same time Twitter and other social media were expanding, allowing them to target disaffected members of Generation Y.

(Kepel jestingly says Generation Y refers to “the cords that hang from their ears to their navels, drawing a kind of Y, and linking them intimately to the world of smartphones like a postmodern umbilical cord that can’t be cut”.)

Kepel also takes aim at the symbiotic relationship between Salafi jihadists and the global Islamophobes. Each side feeds on and grows its own cause on the extremism of the other.

So it is no coincidence that far-right figures – like Marine Le Pen of the French National Front (and U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump) – are soaring in popularity, while Islamic State is luring a growing radicalised fringe of “desperado” 20 to 30-somethings to commit mass murder.

Both the far right and the ISIS forces want to create a society split into two distinct groups, Kepel explains. “On one side, Muslims, who are victims of what is relentlessly termed ‘Islamophobia’; and on the other, the extreme right.”

The two sides confront each other, jostle and confirm one another.

The November 13 Paris attacks and the strong showing by the extreme-right National Front in regional elections (Le Pen’s party registered its highest legislative score since 2012 with close to 7 million votes) express “rejection of the French elites”, a power structure Kepel argues is “an aristocracy increasingly cut off from society”.

“Economic abandonment and disenchantment with politics contributes as much to the intensification of Islamism as it does to the success of the National Front which feeds on the fear of terrorism,” Kepel says.[4]

Just as al-Qaeda’s terrorism failed to ignite fundamentalist political revolutions across the Middle East and Africa, the ISIS-inspired attacks have been political failures also.

Kepel explains: “There are two objectives of terrorism: to terrify the enemy and mobilise the Muslim masses. But in Paris and San Bernardino [U.S.] they have made what appears to be a strategic error because they have not succeeded in mobilising widespread Muslim support.”[5]

Further, “they alienated a core group of would-be sympathisers”, he said in an interview with France24 in December.[6] “They went one step too far and there is a debate even among inmates close to … [ISIS] in French prisons who say ‘no, we do not identify with those guys … They are a nuisance even for radical Islam’.”

“Even the toughest Salafists felt French that day,” Kepel told the Financial Times.[7]

Soul-searching after the recent attacks in Paris offers another opportunity to fix the deep fractures within French society, before another generation of terrorists emerges. If Terror in the Hexagon continues selling like hot cakes, it may help generate the will for the necessary political, social and economic changes.

 

References:

[1]‘Terror in the Hexagon’, by Gilles Kepel”, Review by Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Financial Times, Jan 10, 2016.

[2]A new book says Islamists and the far right work hand-in-hand to promote jihad in France, Quartz, December 16, 2015.

[3]Salafism: Politics and the puritanical”, The Economist, 27 June 2015.

[4] Quartz, December 16, 2015.

[5] Quartz, December 16, 2015.

[6]A month after the November 13 attacks, Gilles Kepel speaks to FRANCE24’s Marc Perelman”, France24, December 23, 2015.

[7] Financial Times, Jan 10, 2016.




























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