Why France?

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.

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8 thoughts on “Why France?

  1. I love your take on this situation! There are so many different things flooding the news right now about the Paris attacks but I have yet to see something like this. It is so important to see things from both sides of the spectrum. I never knew how harsh France was in terms of religion. I feel awful for all that has happened there but now I am thinking that they could have done things to prevent this. If they treated their people better would there be as much violence? Would the attacks have ever happened if there was not laïcite? Was this truly a terrorist attack or a way to make a statement about the segregation? These are all things that I am wondering. What a great post!


  2. Intriguing post! I think the principle of laïcite means not only the separation between politics and religion, but the ‘neutrality of state’ and ‘protection for freedom of conscience’. I mean, laïcite doesn’t cast aside any religion; however, many people misinterpret it and think that laïcite rejects Islam.


  3. I agree with the Takaaki’s idea that laïcite is the notion that also shows the neutrality of the states. However, I did not think up the ideas that see the Terrorism in France from the viewpoint of laïcite, so I thought it was really an interesting post. I personally think that laïcite is one of the France’s traditional ideas and shows their values that think the freedom important. However, freedom could be misused, such as hate speech or despising other people’s values, if they do not understand the exact meaning of freedom. If you like to state their opinions freely, like Charlie Hebdo, you must admit that you have to be responsible for their opinions stated.


  4. Thank you for the blog post. I agree to the idea that you brought. However, I also believe that the reason that France become a target of terror could be the symbolization of its country have. France is a country that thinking, considering and keep questioning on any topic is general to people who lives in France. So, even Charlie Hebdo criticize IS aggressively they accept those thoughts. It must be annoying to IS and to IS it is insult to their god.


  5. This is an incredible take on this topical subject. seeing the other side of this is eye opening; from a personal stand point i was unaware that these types of laws were in effect in France. These facts could have affected whether or not these attacks were orchestrated in this region, however despite French laws and restrictions these attacks were unprecedented and appalling. No matter what French law is there is no excuse for what the terrorists have done.


  6. This post really catches your eye because of everything that has gone on in France over the past couple of months. It was very interesting that you brought up those types of laws to try and describe why these attacks happened. It has been brought up by many security analysts and media outlets that these strict laws do have some effect on why there have been multiple attacks carried out in France. Although France has clamped down on religious freedom in the country that does not excuse what the terrorists did, but the country might have to look into these laws to see if there is a direct correlation.


  7. An excellent reason on why France was attacked. I myself wasn’t sure of why this happened in France, I personally thought an attack like this would be more likely in the United Kingdom. While France certainly does have military involvement in the middle east it isn’t to the same extent as the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom also had a large part in the creation of the State of Israel, knowing how many radical Muslims feel towards Israel I would think the U.K. would be a more desirable target if the attackers where all foreign nationals.


  8. Really great post. It definitely makes one think about how actions, no matter how well intentioned or for what cause, can backfire and work in totally opposite ways than for what they were intended. Perhaps France should take a closer look at the kinds of signals they are sending to the muslim community, and modify their policies or communicate them better so that there is no misunderstanding.


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