Radicalisation is still happening—but out of sightby Christopher de Bellaigue / March 22, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
The southern French commune of Lunel, which was crowned by the international media in 2014 as the capital of French jihad (it has since been overtaken by Trappes), is worth a look. Known in medieval times for its Jewish population, a legacy of which is the surviving synagogue, and later for the manly pursuits of eeling and bull-running, the town declined in the 1960s along with the local viticulture. Encircled with housing estates, it became a down-at-heel dormitory town for nearby Montpellier. Among its attractions is a bronze statue of a local lad, Charles Ménard, who met his death at the hands of the Muslim resistance in Ivory Coast in 1892. Ménard holds a pistol, aimed resolutely towards what is now the North African part of town.
To the new estates came first the Algerians, then the Moroccans. Lunel’s Muslims make up anything from a quarter to a third of the population of around 25,000, and unemployment among young Muslims is around 40 per cent. The cannabis sold in the parks of Lunel is high-quality Moroccan. “On average,” a local magistrate told Libération last year, “one young person from Lunel is banged up each week for burglary, dealing, or repeatedly driving without a licence.”
The fissure between Muslims and Français de souche—those of “native stock,” in the rather agricultural phrase—has become much worse since November’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The attacks claimed 130 lives and were carried out by mainly Belgian and French Muslims. The French President François Hollande reacted by declaring a state of emergency, still ongoing, which allows the authorities to search properties and close down websites with greater freedom. The crackdown has caused upset among French Muslims, some of whom feel even more alienated from the values of the Republic than they did before. There is an irreconcilable tension between the short-term imperative of preventing terrorism and the long-term need to integrate Muslims into a society from which many of them feel virulently estranged.
The national divide has been growing for years and is reflected even in small towns like Lunel. In the 2015 departmental elections, the Front National took 48 per cent of the vote in the second round, a shade less than the Socialists; apart from the Harkis (Algerians whose forefathers collaborated with colonisation) the Muslims of Lunel largely abstained. When Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s Interior Minister, visited in the same year, he was nonplussed to find that among the local worthies who greeted him only one person was of North African origin.