Only a handful of French Muslims are violent extremistsby Erik Bleich / January 8, 2015 / Leave a comment
Chérif Kouachi, 32, Saïd Kouachi, 34. These names were unknown days ago, but will now be remembered by the world as the suspected perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo slaughter. Except that a year from now you won’t remember these names. Or, they might ring a bell, but you are likely to confuse them with Mohamed Merah or Mehdi Nemmouche, better known as the killers in Toulouse in 2012 and in Brussels in 2014. What will likely stick is the connection between Muslim-sounding names and gruesome terrorist acts. And it will be easy to slide from that association to another: Muslims are terrorists, especially in France.
There is no denying that killers committing horrific violence have claimed the mantle of Islam. Far-right politicians, professional Islamophobes, and internet trolls will not shy away from making this point. But if those folks are not the company you’d like to keep, it is vital to have a more well-rounded understanding of Muslims in France.
By most estimates, France has approximately 5m nominal Muslims. The word “nominal” is key, because most of them do not practice their religion, well, religiously. Like the majority of France’s Catholics, they may feel an adherence to an identity while believing little of the doctrine, and may even support the principles of separation of church and state embedded in the French concept of laïcité.
In truth, the vast majority of French Muslims feel very French. According to data from a rigorous survey carried out in 2008-2009, fully 75 per cent of Muslims feel either somewhat or very French. This number rises substantially among Muslims with French citizenship who are born in France and who speak fluent French. In addition, among immigrants, practicing Islam has only a minor downward effect on feeling French, and one that is not very different from a similar effect on immigrants who practice Christianity. Most Muslims in France lead normal, boring lives. They are likely to worry more about annoying colleagues at work and what they will eat for dinner than the latest in a long string of insulting cartoons.
At the same time, some pockets will rally to Muslim causes under specific circumstances. These people come from all walks of life, but the ones with the highest profile are young people, in hard-luck areas, who have little in the way…