For France’s immigrant outcasts, despair leads to Islamic dogma

The Toronto Star – June 23, 2012


Clichy-sous-Bois, which most French people know only as the place where the worst wave of riots in contemporary France began; a place where young people from immigrant families clashed with police and started hundreds of fires among the dilapidated, overcrowded bunkers; a place few French recognized as their own country is undergoing a transformation.

Clichy’s startling makeover is part of an “urban renovation” plan worth billions. It appears to be France’s answer to the well-known plight of people in the banlieues, the infamously segregated suburbs, synonymous with poverty and France’s failure to integrate its immigrants. But walk five minutes to a part of town where the buildings appear condemned and people still live inside. You will see young people who don’t have jobs, who can’t access good schools. You will see that public transit is so scarce, it can take two hours to get to Paris, 10 kilometres away.

You will also see that makeshift prayer rooms are overflowing. There aren’t enough mosques at a time when a major study has found the difficult conditions — poverty, unemployment and lack of access to education — are contributing to a rise in Islamic orthodoxy. Youth unemployment stands at 43 per cent in Clichy (22 per cent in France as a whole), and the chance at finding a job is even worse for a dropout.

Nicolas Sarkozy made efforts to address the problems in the suburbs after his election in 2007. His 2008 Suburbs Hope program, a kind of Marshall Plan, sought to pair young people with jobs and improve access to education. More bursaries were created to send disadvantaged young people to prep schools for the elite universities. But for the most part, it failed, according to the former secretary of state who was in charge of it. Funding for programs didn’t materialize.

Queen’s University (Canada) Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) gives France an overall score of 51 out of 100, down slightly from 2007, and criticizes French laws that make non-European Union residents ineligible for about 7 million jobs in both the public and private sectors.

The lack of jobs and feelings of rejection, accompanied by poor political participation, is leading many Muslims to embrace stricter forms of Islam, said French academic Gilles Kepel. It’s “a piety,” Kepel found in a major year-long study published in 2011 (, “that seems exacerbated by the particular circumstances” in Clichy.

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