Should France Have Its Own Version of Islam? – The Atlantic

Interesting in depth interview – worth reading:

With France’s first round of voting complete, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is among the final two contenders for the presidency, along with centrist Emmanuel Macron. Given how often Le Pen invoked the specter of Islamic fundamentalism throughout her campaign, one might expect French Muslims to be worried about the potential for her to win the May 7 runoff.

But Tareq Oubrou, the popular imam of Bordeaux’s Grand Mosque and a prominent theologian, told me he is not concerned. Nor does he blame those elements in French society that harbor fears of Islam. The morning after the results were announced, he spoke about “legitimate fears” among the French, and seemed to put the burden on Muslims to make Islam more compatible with France and its strong flavor of state secularism, known as laïcité.

Oubrou, who was born in Morocco, is a leading advocate of progressive Islam. Beloved among France’s political elite, he preaches in French as well as in Arabic, critiques the veil or headscarf, insists that Islam is compatible with French ideals at the deepest level, and shrugs off the death threats he gets from radicals.

“It’s religion’s job to institute reform and to respect the laws of the republic,” Oubrou told me, before going on to explain how he and other imams are working to create a new French Islam. This reformed religion, complete with what he calls a “preventive theology,” is meant to be, if not terrorist-proof, at least resistant to being coopted by fundamentalists. Our conversation, which I translated from the French, has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Samuel: In your opinion, what should France’s Muslim leaders be doing to fight radicalization?
Oubrou: We need to pay attention to the training of imams. The terrorist acts have been a shock for imams, and they are starting to take this very seriously. There’s already an intense crisis of conscience: We can’t let our children keep getting seduced online and elsewhere, we have to make an effort to prevent radicalization. Many imams are trying to better explain the Islamic texts that the terrorists use to recruit youth. They’re mobilizing to respond to these interpretations. There’s a theological response underway.
Samuel: Do you think most French people know that imams are fighting this way?
Oubrou: They have no idea. Because there’s no information. Mass media only covers things that aren’t working. And we all know how politicians exploit and aggravate problems so they can propose the solution.Samuel: How are you personally working to make Islam more compatible with the secular values of France?

Oubrou: I myself am working on [an intellectual framework that I call] “the sharia of the minority”—how to adapt Islam, theologically speaking. Muslim theology in France must do the work of acculturating Islam, adapting it to French culture. It’s possible to simplify Islam and preserve what’s important to the Muslim tradition and respect French law and culture. There are a number of Muslims working on a theology of adaptation, to adapt Islam to the West in general and to France in particular.

I am also working on a “preventive theology”—how to elaborate a religious discourse that won’t lend itself to terrorism or fundamentalism.

Samuel: Would it be fair to call your project a reformation?

Oubrou: Yes, it’s a reformation. But it’s always been like this: Every time Islam found itself in a new historical context, it adapted. All religions adapt. Why not Islam?

We need to take into consideration how long it takes to integrate, though. It doesn’t happen in an instant. Islam is a religion that has only relatively recently established itself in France. Simply adapting the theology won’t make people adapt—you need time, too.

Source: Should France Have Its Own Version of Islam? – The Atlantic

Marine Le Pen: France ‘not responsible’ for deporting Jews during Holocaust – The Washington Post

Sigh … hope French voters react:

The Velodrome d’Hiver is an eternal stain on French history.

After dark on July 16, 1942, French police rounded up about 13,000 Jews from across occupied Paris and deposited them in the “Vel d’Hiv,” a famous indoor stadium that had hosted the 1924 Summer Olympics and where the likes of Ernest Hemingway would come to enjoy the races. From the stadium, not far from the Eiffel Tower, the vast majority of these interned Jews in 1942 were deported to Auschwitz. Most would never return from that World War II Nazi concentration camp.

The reason the Vel d’Hiv lingers in France’s national memory is that the roundup was carried out by French police — not by the German occupiers.

In a republic devoted to the lofty ideals of equality and universal citizenship — and that had legally emancipated its Jews long before any of its European neighbors — the Vel d’Hiv roundup exposed the deadly hypocrisy of collaboration with the Nazi regime. In 1995, speaking at the site of the stadium, then-President Jacques Chirac put it this way: “France, the homeland of the Enlightenment and of the rights of man, a land of welcome and asylum — France, on that day, committed the irreparable. Breaking its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.”

Now enter Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, who is making a run for the presidency in the April 23 election.

“I don’t think that France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” she declared Sunday on French television. “I think that in general, more generally, if there were those responsible, it was those who were in power at the time. This is not France.”

In remarks that elicited outrage across the French media, Le Pen went further: “France has been mired in people’s minds for years. In reality, our children are taught that they have every reason to criticize her, to see only the darkest historical aspects.”

“I want them to be proud to be French again.”

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is among the top contenders in France’s presidential campaign. Here’s what you need to know about her.(Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Israel condemned Le Pen’s remarks, saying they reflect rising anti-Semitism that, “unfortunately, is once again raising its head.”

Defusing The Lure Of Militant Islam In France, Despite Death Threats : NPR

One approach:

One of Bouzar’s methods for treating young people seduced by ISIS involves re-establishing links between radicalized individuals and their former lives. She counsels parents to try to bring them back in touch with their childhood — through old pictures and videos or food.

Celine tried this with her son and had little success at first, but she persevered.

“I made all his favorite meals that he loved as a child,” she says. “And I took him to places he liked when he was young. I did everything to reconnect him with his childhood.” Eventually, she noticed he was becoming more open to discussion. He took an interest in school again. The empty look vanished from his eyes.

Bouzar says a person can only be brought back with the help of someone close, like a parent or other family member — or by a reformed jihadist himself.

She has used allegedly reformed jihadists in counseling sessions to try to break through to some of the young people who are radicalizing. “We get them together without the young person realizing who this person is,” says Bouzar. “But then they begin to recognize their own story out of the mouth of the reformed jihadist, because he was lured for some of the same reasons. And slowly, doubt begins to set in.”

Bouzar says there is no such thing as a radicalized youth who wants to be de-radicalized. “He thinks he’s been picked by God and he sees things no one else does, because [everybody else is] indoctrinated,” she says.

Bouzar’s methods have been controversial. Some say her use of allegedly reformed jihadists is dangerous. (In some cases, it can be challenging to ascertain whether they’ve really reformed or are pretending.) Others accuse her of self-promotion. Many more say treating radicalization as purely brainwashing is to underestimate geopolitical and social factors, and the role that radical Islam plays.

Benjamin Erbibou, who works with an organization called Entr’Autres(Among Others), a group that works with radicalization issues in the southern city of Nice, thinks only a small percentage of radicalization cases are linked to brainwashing.

“Mostly,” he says, “it’s linked to a complete rupture and rejection of French society and Western values.”

But Marik Fetouh, deputy mayor of Bordeaux and head of the city’s de-radicalization center, says it’s easy to criticize efforts to deal with radicalization because it’s a poorly understood new phenomenon.

“Bouzar came forward with real ideas to fight this complex phenomenon when pretty much no one else had a clue what to do,” he says.

Although her contract with the French government is over, Bouzar’s association still counsels families affected by radicalization. Bouzar and her teams have counseled more than 1,000 young people and their parents — from Muslim, Catholic and atheist backgrounds.

Source: Defusing The Lure Of Militant Islam In France, Despite Death Threats : Parallels : NPR

‘We won’t back down’: Young right-wing activists agitate across Europe for an idealized past – Canada – CBC News

Interesting profile of the white supremacist movement and key players in France, similar to the likes of Robert Spencer and the like in USA:

They are traditionalists with a YouTube channel, nostalgic nationalists who text and tweet.

Young, white and European, they call themselves Identitarians, right-wing activists agitating across the continent against immigration and Islam and for a future rooted deep in an idealized past.

“I’m a product of my time,” says Pierre Larti, a spokesman for Génération identitaire (GI), the French branch of the movement. “But I know the difference between what is good in this era and what isn’t.”

Larti is buff, squeaky clean and, at 27, already part of the old guard of the movement.

Issy stickering

Génération identitaire uses of range of strategies to get its message across, from Greenpeace-style shock tactics to postering and stickering in like-minded neighbourhoods. (Michelle Gagnon/CBC)

After a long day and a meeting that ran late — Larti works in HR at a yogurt factory — he travelled more than 50 kilometres to lead a low-tech, late-night postering and stickering campaign in Issy-les-Moulineaux, a suburb just outside Paris.

“I’ve lived in this multiethnic society and seen its ravages, the dangers it poses for us, for the French. We’ve become passive, too accepting,” Larti says.

“We accept the veil in the public square. We accept burkas. Little by little, we accept everything. We accept that France now has more than 2,500 mosques.

“We accept one or two attacks a year,” he pauses and then asserts: “I cannot accept that.”

Source: ‘We won’t back down’: Young right-wing activists agitate across Europe for an idealized past – Canada – CBC News

Patrick Weil : « Qu’on laisse en paix les femmes voilées » | L’Opinion

As always, sensible and nuanced commentary by Weil:

Patrick Weil, historien et politologue, est directeur de recherche au CNRS et au centre d’histoire sociale du XX e siècle à Paris I. Considéré comme l’un des meilleurs spécialistes des questions de laïcité et d’immigration en France, il a participé aux travaux de la commission Stasi qui rendit en 2003 un rapport sur l’application du principe de laïcité. Il est notamment l’auteur de Qu’est-ce qu’un Français ? Histoire de la nationalité française depuis la Révolution, Gallimard.

Est-il vrai que le port du voile islamique explose en France ?

Non. La religiosité se développe. Le voile se présente sur de nouveaux territoires car des femmes le portent et frappent aux portes des entreprises et de tous les métiers qualifiés, mais il ne se développe pas et il n’explose pas. Son port peut d’ailleurs avoir des sens différents. Il peut être porté sous la pression des pairs ou de certains membres de la famille. La personne qui le porte parfois le fait pour ne pas être harcelée dans son propre milieu tout en étant très libre dans sa tête et ses amitiés. En gros, je mets le voile et je ne me fais pas em… par la famille. Parfois elle le porte en toute bonne foi, par tradition familiale ou au contraire en réaction à un milieu non croyant ou non pratiquant.

Et après tout, cela ne nous regarde pas, comme ne nous regardent pas les opinions et les pratiques religieuses d’aucun de nos concitoyens. Violent-elles la loi en portant un voile ? non. Alors, qu’on les laisse en paix. Tant que nos compatriotes musulmans n’auront pas droit à l’indifférence qui passe d’abord par le silence des politiques, alors on ne fera que renforcer – par solidarité, fierté ou sentiment de discrimination – les comportements que l’on veut réduire.

Que le ministre de l’Intérieur s’attaque aux violations de notre laïcité qui sont les plus sérieuses sans être les plus visibles : les pressions sur les mineures par exemple. Ou encore le phénomène qui se développe, si l’on en croit certaines études, de mariages religieux soit avant le mariage civil soit sans mariage civil. La loi ne permet aujourd’hui de punir les officiants mais pas ceux qui se marient. Si demain la loi pénalisait ceux qui se marient religieusement avant de se marier civilement, cela ne serait pas choquant du tout. Le mariage civil à la mairie, célébré devant la communauté des citoyens, avant l’éventuel mariage religieux, c’est au fondement de la laïcité, depuis 1792.

Est-il pertinent d’ouvrir un débat sur le port du voile à l’université ?

Pour la commission Stasi, il n’était pas question d’interdire les signes religieux dans les Universités – comme cela vient d’être proposé – ou ailleurs dans le monde des adultes : les adultes ont des moyens pour se défendre que les enfants n’ont pas. Ils peuvent aller en justice et protéger leur liberté de conscience plus facilement.

Il faut le rappeler : la plus importante de nos lois, la loi de 1905, assure la liberté de conscience, sépare l’Etat et les Eglises, mais elle n’est pas une loi antireligieuse. Elle laisse sa place à la religion, à toutes les religions et à toutes les options spirituelles. C’est une loi négociée entre les socialistes de l’époque et l’Eglise catholique de France. Elle a ensuite été – temporairement – rejetée par le Vatican, avant que l’Eglise ne l’accepte et ne finisse par en faire tous les éloges. Sous ce régime de laïcité, la neutralité envers les croyances religieuses n’est imposée qu’à l’État et ses serviteurs, au sein de la sphère politique et depuis 2004, aux élèves des écoles publiques. Elle n’est pas imposée dans d’autres sphères publiques.

Source: Patrick Weil : « Qu’on laisse en paix les femmes voilées » | L’Opinion

And for background on the French government’s position:

The French government has defended municipal bans on body-covering Muslim ‘burkini’ swimwear but called on mayors to try and cool tensions between communities.

Three Mediterranean towns — Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet and Sisco on the island of Corsica — have banned the burkini, and Le Touquet on the Atlantic coast is planning to do the same.

The mainly conservative mayors who have imposed the ban say the garment, which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, defies French laws on secularism.

The socialist government’s minister for women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, supported the bans.

 “The burkini is not some new line of swimwear, it is the beach version of the burqa and it has the same logic: hide women’s bodies in order to better control them,” Rossignol told French daily Le Parisien in an interview.

France, which has the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated at 5 million, in 2010 introduced a ban on full-face niqab and burqa veils in public.

Rossignol said the burkini had sparked tensions on French beaches because of its political dimension.

“It is not just the business of those women who wear it, because it is the symbol of a political project that is hostile to diversity and women’s emancipation,” she said.

‘It is not just the business of those women who wear it’: France defends growing number of ‘burkini’ bans

France Has Shut Down 20 Mosques Since December Over Alleged Radical Islam Sermons – The Atlantic

While I understand the rationale to shut-down such places of hate, one can question whether shutting them down will simply drive them underground, where their activities may be harder to detect and contest:

“Fight against the #radicalization: since December 2015, twenty Muslim places of worship have been closed,” the Interior Ministry tweeted.

Of the country’s 2,500 mosques and prayer halls, approximately 120 of them have been suspected by French authorities of preaching radical Salafism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam, according to France 24.

“There is no place … in France for those who call for and incite hatred in prayer halls or in mosques … About 20 mosques have been closed, and there will be others,” Cazeneuve said.

The announcement came days after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called for a temporary ban on foreign funding of French mosques. A Senate committee report on Islam in France published in July found that though the country’s mosques are primarily financed through individual donations, a significant portion of their funding also comes from overseas—specifically from Morocco, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia. The same report called banning foreign financing of mosques “absurd and impossible,” calling instead for more transparency.

Because of France’s 1905 law establishing the separation of church and state, or laïcité, the French government cannot finance religious institutions directly. Some experts say this rule has made many mosques reliant on foreign funding.

Cazeneuve also announced Monday that French authorities would be working with the French Muslim Council to launch a foundation to help finance mosques within France.

Source: France Has Shut Down 20 Mosques Since December Over Alleged Radical Islam Sermons – The Atlantic

France wants to feel safe – whatever it takes. But what if it takes too much? Dominique Moisi

Another good piece on the limits of what can and should be done:

There is plenty that can and must be done to strengthen security in France and elsewhere. But the ultimatum that some French are now implicitly presenting – guarantee absolute security, or watch us cast aside the rule of law and basic principles of openness and equality – does more harm than good.

The French, like all people, deserve to feel safe whether they’re going to church, enjoying a concert or celebrating a holiday. The question is how to restore that sense of security at a time when the risk of a terrorist attack cannot be fully eliminated.

The answer lies with civil society. Citizens should become more alert to the signs of radicalization, and more educated on how to respond. People should be encouraged to report the possible radicalization of those close to them to relevant authorities, whether mental-health professionals or the police. The goal is not to have people making unsubstantiated accusations against neighbours and friends; it is to create channels through which people who recognize radical or violent leanings in someone they know can report their concerns.

This model has worked for Israel. Despite regular exposure to terrorist attacks, Israelis retain a sense of relative security, owing partly to the ability of civil society to contribute to their own safety. As a result, citizens are willing to respect what Max Weber called the state’s “monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.”

France is not on the verge of collapsing into chaos, with vigilantes attempting to take on the terrorists. But the relentless fear-mongering of populists, together with genuinely terrifying, tragic, and infuriating experiences, is undermining people’s better judgment, causing them to fall prey to inflammatory rhetoric. With a presidential election next year, there is strong incentive for self-serving politicians to use the victims of Nice as instruments of campaign strategy.

This cannot be allowed to happen. If the French ultimately succumb to fear and elect populist bigots, the struggling Islamic State will have scored a victory. Make no mistake: the Islamic State is losing. Its territories in Syria and Iraq are dwindling, but it has a last-ditch strategy to prop itself up: rapid recruitment. And that would receive a major boost from intensification of anti-Muslim rhetoric or, worse, the election of those who would turn rhetoric into policy.

Islamic State recruiters are achieving success; from Orlando to Istanbul to Dhaka, it has found plenty of supporters who are eager to kill in its name. But as long as the West remains united and principled, IS cannot emerge victorious.

For France and others, the key is collective action, at home and abroad, which will require improved links between internal and external security agencies, together with greater risk awareness within civil society, along Israeli lines. Add that to continued strikes against IS sanctuaries, and its dream of an Islamic caliphate will soon be dead.

Regaining control over our lives and our destinies means being realistic. Instead of demanding a return to a time before terrorism, we must become more alert to the risks it poses – not only to our safety, but also to our values and commitment to the rule of law – and do our part to minimize them.

Source: France wants to feel safe – whatever it takes. But what if it takes too much? – The Globe and Mail

The West’s Crisis of Leadership [focus on France] – The New York Times

Sylvie Kauffmann on the weakness of political leadership in France, contrasted with the resilience of its population:

Today, France and the United States are probably the West’s two main targets of Islamist terrorism. In France, our government warns that we must “learn to live with terrorism.” Yet just when they need to be stronger, our societies seem fragile, tense, stirred by powerful winds of revolt against their elites and an economic order that has increased inequalities. Can they withstand the shock?

Defying the odds through the last 18 difficult months — three bloody waves of terrorist attacks and sporadic terrorist incidents, strikes, violent protests against a reform of labor laws, high unemployment and floods — the French have proved surprisingly resilient. The annual survey of the National Consultative Human Rights Commission, carried out in January, even showed tolerance on the rise “despite the posture of some public figures.” While the 2008 economic crisis reduced tolerance, the 2015 attacks produced the opposite effect, “leading to soul-searching and civic mobilization” against extremists, the commission said.

Similarly, the Pew Research Center’s 2016 Global Attitudes Survey found that France (the European Union country with the biggest Muslim and Jewish populations) was the European nation second only to Spain in valuing diversity. The monthlong Euro soccer competition, hosted by France just before the Nice attack, also inspired intense fervor from the French public for its very diverse national team; it was supported throughout by enthusiastic singing of “The Marseillaise,” even after it lost the final game.

Some statistics from the Ministry of Interior, though, show a different picture: The number of racist criminal acts went up 22.4 percent in 2015. The reason for this contradiction, the Human Rights Commission’s experts suggest, is that while individuals who carry out such acts are becoming more radicalized, the society at large is more aware of the dangers of polarization. This attitude shows in an increasing number of civic initiatives, and in the results of the regional election last December: After the far-right National Front did very well in the first round, voters rallied against it and prevented it from winning a single region in the second round.

Whether such healthy reactions will prevail after the Nice massacre — and any future one — is an open question. With a big immigrant population from North Africa and a very strong National Front locally, Nice itself is particularly vulnerable.

The sad reality is that people of good will are not helped by a significantly mediocre political establishment. There could be national unity at the bottom — if only there were at the top.

This was illustrated again immediately after the Bastille Day attack. While citizens of all backgrounds and colors joined to pay their respects to the victims on the Promenade des Anglais, while the florists of Nice united to cover the bloodied avenue with flowers, while the nation was in shock, our politicians bickered over whether the government could have prevented this new atrocity. With the 2017 presidential election flashing big on his radar screen, Mr. Hollande’s rival and predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, did not even wait for the end of three days of national mourning before mounting a ferocious attack on what he saw as the government’s passivity.

The political debate in France has not quite reached the abyss of the campaign for the June 23 referendum on Brexit in Britain yet, nor of Donald J. Trump’s surreal pronouncements, but it is going in that direction. Le Monde’s longtime cartoonist Plantu feels that politicians, media and social networks have stolen his job: “They are now more caricatural than my own caricatures,” he said. In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche on Sunday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls openly worried about a trend that he describes as “the Trumpization of minds.” This, he said, “cannot be our response to the Islamic State.”

When citizens behave more wisely than the men and women who compete to represent them, the time has come to take a hard look at the state of our political systems and its impact on our societies further down the road — particularly when modern democracies are under threat from outside forces that have declared war on them.

Source: The West’s Crisis of Leadership – The New York Times

ICYMI: Jihad and the French Exception: Farhad Khosrowkhovar – The New York Times

Good, thought-provoking explanation of some of the reasons for France’s “exceptionalism” and the arguable failure of its integration model:

France’s distinctiveness arises in part from the ideological strength of the idea the nation has had of itself since the French Revolution, including an assertive form of republicanism and an open distrust of all religions, beginning, historically, with Catholicism. This model has been knocked around over the years, first by decolonization, then by decades of economic hardship, the growing stigmatization of cultural differences, the fervent individualism of new generations and globalization, which has narrowed the state’s room for maneuver.

Above all, France hasn’t been able to solve the problem of economic and social exclusion. Its system, which is too protective of those people who have jobs and not open enough to those who don’t, breeds angst all around. Young people in the banlieues, marginalized and with few prospects, feel like victims. They become prime targets for jihadist propaganda, often after a stint in prison for petty crimes.

Neither Germany nor Britain faces the banlieues phenomenon, at least not on such a scale. The German town of Dinslaken, which is partly ghettoized, has become a hotbed of Islamist radicalization. The same goes for Dewsbury, in West Yorkshire, and the Molenbeek district of Brussels. But France seems to alienate many more of its citizens and residents, well beyond those who actually join the Islamic State.

One reason is that France’s vision of citizenship, which strongly insists on adherence to a few exalted political values, has seriously eroded over time. By the 1980s, the republican ideal was floundering: It had promised equal opportunity, and that now seemed to be in short supply. The French Communist Party, which had long brought dignity to disadvantaged groups by proposing to fight injustice through class struggle, also greatly weakened during that period, partly because of the demise of the Soviet Union.

Postwar Germany, on the other hand, chose a far more modest and prudent vision: economic progress. Today, Germany has a rather muted foreign policy toward the Muslim world, and it displays no desire to unite all its citizens around universal principles. Britain isn’t trying to create a monocultural society either. It has opted for multiculturalism, which can abide hyphenated identities and communal behavior.

France, however, remains resolutely universalist and claims it still has both the desire and the power to enforce inclusion. Yet its assimilationist ambitions are increasingly at odds with everyday reality, and this growing gap is a source of pervasive distress.

And so the strength — the weight — of France’s national identity has become a problem. It only heightens the discontent of young people with foreign origins, especially North Africans or their descendants, all the more so because the Maghreb’s decolonization occurred in pain and humiliation: When France withdrew from Algeria, it left behind hundreds of thousands dead and created scars in the collective unconscious that remain to this day. British decolonization seems almost painless in comparison.

Certainly, Britons and Germans also express fears about immigration and Islam. Such concerns help explain Brexit. Acts of sexual harassment in Cologne around the new year, apparently committed by immigrants, sparked a heated debate in Germany (and beyond). But both Britain and Germany give non-local minorities ample leeway to publicly express and practice their religious and communal preferences.

France insists — in the name of republicanism — that religion should remain a strictly private affair. An ideological nation par excellence, it focuses on symbolic issues like wearing headscarves or holding collective prayers in public places. But restricting such practices causes wounds that go much deeper than the prohibitions themselves: It allows Islamists to exaggerate the implications and accuse France of Islamophobia. In fact, France is no more Islamophobic than its neighbors; it’s just more frontal in the way it handles Islam in the public sphere.

French-style integration has had some successes. Most notable among them is a high rate of mixed marriages. The French public school system, by helping uplift the lower classes and, therefore, many children of North African parents, has also been a tool of integration (although lately it has seemed less effective). Sometimes precisely because they have faced prejudice in the job market, which has long been stifled by unemployment, children of immigrants have found refuge in state institutions like the army and the police, which recruit through anonymous competitive exams.

Although France has managed to integrate many immigrants and their descendants, those it has left on the sidelines are more embittered than their British or German peers, and many feel insulted in their Muslim or Arab identity. Laïcité, France’s staunch version of secularism, is so inflexible it can appear to rob them of dignity. An additional factor is France’s muscular foreign policy, which seems to target mostly Muslim countries, such as Libya, Syria and Mali.

Source: Jihad and the French Exception – The New York Times

‘That Ignoramus’: 2 French Scholars of Radical Islam Turn Bitter Rivals – The New York Times

Personally, I think it is a mix of the two elements – the individual and the structural:

What propels Islamist terrorism and attacks against France is more than an academic debate: The answer shapes policy toward blunting the threat.

So it is no inconsequential matter in a culture under attack, and one that so cherishes its intellectual debates, that France’s two leading scholars of radical Islam — former friends — have turned bitter rivals over their differing views.

“Madman,” “thug,” “illiterate,” “paranoid,” “ass,” “not a thinker” — these are just some of the choicer insults the two men have hurled at each other in a peculiarly personal quarrel with far larger stakes that has reverberated through the French news media and society for months.

The two distinguished academics, Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel, have long lists of books to their name, and years of field work in the Middle East, Central Asia and the troubled French suburbs. They are both eagerly consulted by the French news media and government officials.

But with France on edge and the continued target of terrorist attacks, their clashing analyses of the origins, development and future of jihadism have broken out of academic circles to present an important question for France and for all of Europe: Which man holds the key to understanding the phenomenon?

Mr. Kepel, 61, a professor at Sciences Po, the prestigious political science institute, finds much of the answer inside France — in its suburbs and their dysfunctional sociology — and in the role of Islam, angering many on the left.

Mr. Roy, 66, who as a bearded young man roamed Afghanistan with the mujahedeen in the 1980s and now teaches at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, places greater emphasis on individual behavior and psychology in a jihadism he considers strictly marginal to Islam.

Mr. Kepel sees individuals as cogs in a system — part of a classically French, structuralist tradition that minimizes the role of individual human agency.

Mr. Roy, on the other hand, sees mostly troubled people in the jihadist ranks who act out their fantasies of violence and cruelty.

The terrorists who have carried out recent attacks were mostly marginalized young men and petty criminals, he says, adding that they have used Islam as a cover to pursue extreme violence.

“They haven’t had a militant past,” Mr. Roy said of many of these terrorists, in a telephone interview. The problem they represent, he says, is the “Islamicization of radicalism.”

It is a signature phrase that enrages Mr. Kepel, who leans toward its opposite: the radicalization of Islam.

“That ignoramus,” Mr. Kepel grumbled in an interview this month in his book-lined office, offering some choice gibes about his onetime friend’s lack of Arabic.

Mr. Kepel testified for an influential 2015 parliamentary report, wrote a best seller on terrorism after the attacks in Paris in November, and has been omnipresent in television and radio studios.

“At the ministry, they tell me, ‘I saw Kepel yesterday,’ ” said Mr. Roy, himself a favorite of the country’s dominant left-leaning news media. His arguments, for the moment at least, appear to be winning in government circles.

As the jockeying has intensified in official circles, so has the falling-out between the old friends.

Today they cannot stand each other, and, with the passion that typifies intellectual fights in a country where nothing short of war is more serious, they contemptuously dismiss each other’s views.

“The King Is Naked,” read the headline on Mr. Kepel’s attack on Mr. Roy this spring in the newspaper Libération, in a play on the French meaning of Mr. Roy’s name.

In turn, while acknowledging a long and now broken friendship, Mr. Roy today offers his own less-than-friendly critique of Mr. Kepel as a kind of cloistered intellectual.

 “We were friends for 20 years,” Mr. Roy said in the interview. “I traveled with him in Istanbul. But I was very struck by his incapacity to talk to anybody.”

“He’s sincere the way a madman is,” he added. “He’s not a thinker. He’s not a philosopher.”

The French debate has echoes of Republican criticism in the United States of President Obama for his reluctance to use the word Islam in connection with terrorism.

But as is so often the case in contemporary France, the heart of the dispute here is a disagreement about the country’s relationship with Islam.

Mr. Roy sees a Muslim population that is relatively well-integrated.

But for Mr. Kepel, the murderous jihadism that struck France in 2015 is the expression of a slow-burning Islamist radicalization that took shape over decades because of a failure of integration.

Source: ‘That Ignoramus’: 2 French Scholars of Radical Islam Turn Bitter Rivals – The New York Times