Thursday, 6 October 2011

This is my translation of a Le Monde article about a study of Islam in the banlieues of France.
It is an assessment that is going to prove disturbing.

In the tower blocks of Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil (Seine-Saint-Denis), the two towns that have been emblems of the crisis of the suburbs since the riots in the autumn of 2005, the Republic, this collective principle that is supposed to organise social life, is a remote idea. What "makes society"? Islam first of all. An Islam of the everyday, of the family, banal most often, which provides collective reference points, individual morality, social bonds, there where the Republic multiplied its promises without keeping them. Where, therefore, religious belief has more of a structuring effect than Republican belief.

Twenty five years after having published a reference report on the birth of Islam in France – entitled Les Banlieues de l'islam [The Banlieues of Islam] – the political scientist Gilles Kepel, accompanied by five researchers returned to the working class estates of Seine-Saint-Denis to understand the crisis of the quartiers [districts]. Six years after the riots caused by the death of two adolescents, in October 2005, his team shared two in the flats of the two towns, accompanied the mothers of families at the school gates, met company directors, elected politicians, to tell the story of this "Banlieue de la République" – this is the title of this complex and passionate study, published by the Institut Montaigne.

The feeling of alienation has favoured an “intensification” of religious practices, notes Gilles Kepel. There are multiple indications of this. Mosque attendance is much more regular – the two towns (60,000 inhabitants in total) have around a dozen mosques, with extremely varied profiles, able to accommodate up to 12,000 faithful. Ramadan practised almost systematically by the men. Finally, an extensible concept of halal, which establishes a moral frontier between what is forbidden and what is authorised, a fracture line whose validity ranges from the most intimate choices to social life.

The researchers take the example of school canteens, very little frequented in Clichy in particular. There is a cost problem clearly for the poorest families. But the fundamental reason relates to respect for halal. The first generations of immigrants enrolled their children there, simply asking them not to eat pork. Some of their descendants, once they have become parents in turn, prefer to avoid the canteens for their own offspring because they do not offer halal. An estrangement factor that is disturbing for Gilles Kepel: "Learning to eat together at school is one of the ways of learning about the future conviviality at the table of the Republic."

Because the movement of "cultural reislamisation" at the end of the 1990s was particularly marked in Clichy and Montfermeil. On the ruins caused by the traffic in hard drugs, in the context of a collapse of municipal communism, faced with the multiplication of anti-social behaviour and violence, the missionaries of Tabligh (the most important pietist movement in Islam), in particular, played a part in re-establishing a collective framework. And participated in the struggle against heroin, in the 1990s, where the police had failed. This combat against hard drugs – replaced in part by the traffic in cannabis - offered a "social, spiritual and redemptive legitimacy" to Islam – even if the victory over heroin, in reality, largely came from health policies.

Above all, Islam also provided a "compensation" for the feeling of social, political and economic indignity. This is the central thesis of Gilles Kepel, convinced that this "exaggerated piety" is a symptom of the crisis of the banlieues, not its cause. As if Islam had developed in the absence of the Republic, rather than in opposition to it. As if the values of Islam had filled the void left by republican values. How, indeed, still to believe in the Republic?

More than research on Islam, the study of Gilles Kepel dives into the interstices and failures of public policy concerning the “quartiers sensibles” [sensitive districts]... With a mediocre report: the area continues to suffer from long-term alienation, illustrated these last weeks by the epidemic of tuberculosis, an illness from another century, in the district of Chêne-Pointu, in Clichy, a ghetto of poor people and immigrants in the face of which the public authorities remain impotent. Illustrated for years by a very high rate of unemployment, a level of poverty with no equivalent in the Ile-de-France [area around Paris] and massive educational failure.

Clichy-Montfermeil forms a society that is fragile, fragmented, unstructured. Where sometimes brilliant individual successes can be found and stories of exemplary resilience, but where educational failure and early orientation towards vocational training are the norm. “The bearer of immense hopes, the school is also the object of the most profound resentments,” note the researchers. “To the point where “the most hated figure among a large number of young people is the vocational counsellor at the end of the school years – far ahead of the police”.

Despite that, the public authorities have not skimped on their efforts. Hundreds of millions of euros invested in urban renovation to destroy the oldest tower blocks and rebuild entire districts. For the last two years, the cranes have been going up just about everywhere and the construction sites have proliferated – invalidating the too facile discourse about abandonment by the state. Here a school rebuilt; there, a degraded building transformed into a residence. A new police station, also, whose construction was voted on by the inhabitants – because it embodies the hope for a policy of security in the local area.

The problem, Gilles Kepel shows, is that the state as builder is not enough. The tower blocks have been erased for some, renovated for others, but the social state is insufficient in itself. An incoherent employment policy does not allow the unemployed to catch up. Public transport remains notoriously inadequate and prevents the young people in the two towns from benefiting from the economic dynamism of the rest of Seine-Saint-Denis. Even more delicately, the care of young children is not well-adapted to families arriving from Sub-Saharan Africa and children with cultural models very far from western practices.

What to do then? Reorient public policy towards education, early childhood, first of all, to help the youths integrated economically and socially. Show confidence, then, in the “élites locales de la diversité” [local diversity elites] by allowing them to accede to responsibilities so that, tomorrow, there will be mayors, deputies, high officials who are both Muslim and republican. Because, in this sombre picture, the researcher sees the awakening of a middle class, of company directors, young graduates, activist associations, who want to weigh in on public life, anxious to reconcile Muslim identity with republican belonging.
Source: Le Monde


Anonymous said...

These Muslims never understand the language of tolerence, decency, greatfulness. They cannot co-exist with any other communities anywhere in the world simply because they consider non-muslims as infidels. At the same time they want to migrate the countries of the infidels, want their dolls, everythings. BEST SOLUTION IS FUCK THEM OFF.

Anonymous said...

These Muslims never understand the language of tolerence, decency, gratitude. They cannot co-exist with any other communities anywhere in the world simply because they consider non-muslims as infidels. At the same time they want to migrate the countries of the infidels, want their dolls, everythings. BEST SOLUTION IS FUCK THEM OFF.

Anonymous said...

i hate radical fundamentalists. i had no idea they're taking over parts of scandinavia and australia

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