Summary: Generations of immigration gave France cheap docile workers. Now comes the hangover as France struggles to integrate them, amidst concerns about rising Islamic fundamentalism and recruitment by jihadists.
Getting to the Root of France’s Muslim Dilemma
By Joe Parson. Stratfor, 24 January 2016
The jihadist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo signified the beginning of a new period of insecurity for France. Since those shots rang out a little over a year ago, France has been beset by threats, false alarms and more successful attacks. The latest of these, of course, took place in Paris itself, triggering the first nationwide state of emergency since 1961. Having been away for most of 2015, when I arrived back for the holidays I found the country had somehow changed. Disembarking at Charles de Gaulle airport’s oldest terminal, whimsically known as le Camembert for its roundness, I found the same futuristic, grimy moving walkways and familiar odor of the Paris metro. Much was the same, but then I noticed that the usual airport security was gone, replaced by military personnel patrolling with automatic rifles.
France’s security alert system, Plan Vigipirate, was developed in the late 1970s, updated once in the mid-1990s and twice more in the early 2000s. It reached its highest level of alert (scarlet) after the March 2012 Toulouse and Montauban attacks. In January 2015, however, authorities created a new, higher level to reflect the perceived current danger.
As I traveled through Paris and the rest of the country I saw these security measures in action on the city’s metro and on the country’s high-speed train, the Train à Grande Vitesse. Security checks have become much more common, and this has led to some delays. False alarms triggered by such things as suspicious packets of cookies on a Nantes tram or forgotten luggage have stopped trains across the country. Over the New Year holiday, the center of Paris was cordoned off and people were individually screened before being allowed to continue on foot. Even the Christmas market in Strasbourg, far from Paris, was blocked off to automobile traffic, and identification checks were mandatory.
Security measures in the wake of attacks have been made more complex — and politically volatile — by France’s sizeable Muslim population. French Muslims themselves, especially immigrants, have become the focus of a great deal of scrutiny over the past year. In 2010, 4.8 million Muslims lived in France, the second-largest population in the European Union and the largest in proportion to population: 7.5 percent. This has led many on the far right to call for policies specifically limiting Muslim immigration. Opinions, however, are mixed — a 2015 Pew Research poll found that only 24 percent of the country held unfavorable views of Muslims. Popular perception of Islam has played a moderating role in the government’s reaction while ensuring safety for all, including the French Muslim population.