The French banlieue crisis

A brief comment on the Dgsi document leak

According to a leaked classified document of the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure (DGSI), 150 neighborhoods in Paris and other major French cities’ suburbs such as in Lyon, Toulouse and Marseille are currently controlled by Islamist radicals, as exposed by “Le Journal du Dimanche” (LJD). Additionally, strong Islamist presence was also reported in suburbs of smaller cities throughout the country. [1] [2] [3]

The objective of this brief comment is not to go into details on the specific situations but rather to point out that the phenomenon should not surprise the public opinion, as the signs of such an outcome was more than predictable and traceable in the following equation: “Islamism and extremist ideology finds an easy way in when there is no institutional control over the territory”.

First of all, it is important to recall how at the end of the 1990’s, French authorities were already aware of the difficult situation involving the suburbs in Paris, Marseille and Lyon. Over 700 of them were classified as declining and sensitive to crime.

Such ghettos are mainly inhabited by 3rd and 4th generations of French citizens of African origin who do not feel part of French society, but rather third-class citizens, neglected by the State. In some of these hoods the general unemployment rate reaches 40% and the youth rate up to 60%.

It is proven that bad economic and social conditions are fertile soil for extremism, as already seen in other contexts in the Balkans and northern Caucasus, for instance.

The riots in the French suburbs in 2005 and 2017 should have been a clear sign that something had to be done, but the situation had been neglected for too long on an institutional level, and the worse it gets, the harder it is to find solutions.

The approximate 1900 foreign fighters who left France to join jihadists in Syria and Iraq are another clear sign of distress within the French society. Going beyond the jihadist phenomenon, there is a precise aspect that often remains unnoticed, the fact that French citizens, many of them coming from the suburbs, (Muslims, but sill French) are willing to risk their lives and embrace another identity.

This means that Islamist radicalism did not only infiltrate the suburbs of major French cities, but it also infiltrated the hearts and minds of many French Muslims. The risk is not only “a State within a State”, as some point out, but also an extraneous identity making its way into the vacuum left by the State.




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