After Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, Andrew Hussey’s The French Intifada—on France, its Muslim population and the challenge of Islamism—is the most interesting book about France to have been published in English for many years. Hussey runs the University of London institute in Paris. He is serious about France and the French. Like French political sociologists such as Alain Touraine, Michel Wieviorka or Gilles Kepel, he believes in getting out of his study and into the rough streets of the French banlieues.
Hussey writes down what he sees, hears and is told. For example, he is not afraid to report the extraordinary levels of anti-semitism among France’s disaffected Arab and Muslim population. Most bien-pensant English writers gloss over the vitriolic Jew-hatred that informs Islamist ideology. Dislike of Netanyahu and Israel’s settlement policies blinds many to the extent to which anti-semitism has become entrenched as a core element of 21st-century ideology in much of the Arab and wider Muslim world.
The French Intifada is an unusual mixture of reportage and history. Its first three chapters on disaffected communities of North African origin in France are vivid journalism far removed from the sex scandals and boring Peter Mayle retreads that is the staple diet of most British writers and journalists operating out of France. In fact, our main papers have some high quality correspondents but their task is to please their monolingual editors in London. Then there’s the tried and trusted “the French don’t have a word for entrepreneur” kind of story beloved of British and American correspondents which, for the past 25 years, has presented France as an economic basket-case that compares unfavourably with the self-proclaimed (though not always evident) success of Anglo-American neoliberalism.
As in Britain, there is a great deal of discussion and writing about France’s Muslim communities. But unlike Britain, where British Muslims tend to have travelled thousands of miles to arrive from Pakistan, Kashmir, Bangladesh and India, France’s Muslims are more akin to the Irish, who came to Britain across a short stretch of sea. Unlike many of Britain’s Muslims, especially those in poorer communities, who watch Pakistani TV at home and speak Mirpuri as a first and sometimes only language, the southern Mediterranean Muslims in France have imbibed French culture and language through watching French television or reading newspapers and books in French as often as Arabic.