It appears as though France has become a high priority target of terrorism in recent months, following the Charlie Hebdo assassinations in early January and, now, the quite extensive terrorist attacks throughout Paris this past weekend, which left more than one hundred fatalities and casualties at the Stade de France, numerous cafes and restaurants, as well as the Bataclan theater – all in the country’s capital city. This recent spate of Jihadism in a prominent Western European country, that is also a NATO Member State, has left experts and commentators alike perplexed, wondering “Why France?” – a fair question. Perhaps the answer has something to do with France’s military involvement in the Middle East, however small, or its collective security relationship with countries such as the United States and Great Britain. Perhaps these terrorist attacks have simply been a consequence of France’s democratic values and ideals – you know, the hackneyed old “clash of civilizations” (between Islam and Christianity) argument. Another hypothesis, which has received substantially less attention in the media, is a sociological justification for terrorism in France since a significant proportion of the perpetrators of these recent attacks have, themselves, been French nationals. This argument posits that the French policy of laïcite, or extreme secularism, as well as de facto segregation and marginalization of the French Muslim population is, in fact, a root cause of the proliferation of terrorism throughout the country.
In this connection, what is laïcite? Nowadays, the policy of laïcite is the culprit behind France’s excessively secular (anti-religion?) laws, such as the ban on Muslim women’s headscarves on public property, the ban on wearing insignia or garments that display religious allegiance in public schools, and even requiring Muslim and Jewish schoolchildren to eat pork in cafeterias – or go hungry. By American standards this type of government encroachment into civil rights and liberties seems somewhat tyrannical. Furthermore, laïcite is more than just a series of laws which are supported by both the far Right and radical Left parties in France; it is a cultural value that transcends the political, economic, and social realms of French society that was originally established in the post-revolutionary Third Republic as a means of promoting extreme nationalism and patriotism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia, as well as imperialism. In essence, laïcite was intended to replace old allegiances to the Roman Catholic Church and, instead, ingrain (through the early indoctrination of young French pupils) values and ideals of loyalty and obedience to the French nation-state, even at the cost of one’s life. The historical rhetoric of laïcite includes epically cringe-worthy sentiments such as “clericalism is the enemy”, “a good Frenchmen must know how to die for the flag”, “you exist only for the native land, you live only for her”, and even “hatred is a force, Frenchmen, hatred is a duty”. These antiquated expressions of violence, atheism, and racism have, in fact, seeped their way into contemporary French domestic policy.
In France, laïcite has created, whether intentionally or unintentionally, an atmosphere of “territorial apartheid” and de facto segregation of Muslims into ghetto-like enclaves, which are highly impoverished and suffer from instances of systemic hate crime. It is in these communities where political, economic, and social grievances against the French government and the policies under laïcite breed extremism, criminality, and radical Islam in connection with armed gangs, drug-dealing, and Jihadism.
In class, we have analyzed the impact of civilian grievances on state security and governmental integrity in connection to the formulation of insurgencies, as well as the onset of civil war. It is well-founded to suggest that grievances, whether they are due to poverty, repression, discrimination, and/or exclusion may also be responsible for acts of domestic and transnational terrorism.