Dr. Leslie Shaw is the founder and president of the Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management (FIRM), a leading authority on legal and security issues related to the impact of political Islam in the workplace. In 2017, FIRM organised a groundbreaking conference at the Army, Navy and Air Force Officer’s Club in Paris on the subject of Islamic Radicalism in the Workplace. This event brought together the world’s most informed experts on Islamic radicalism and workplace security to meet with executives from both the private and public sectors.
In this Q&A piece, written by special request for the Alliance, Dr. Shaw outlines the phenomenon of Muslim no-go zones in France. In explaining how these fanatical enclaves have come to be, Shaw punctures the narrative of “disenfranchisement” being propagated by Emmanuel Macron and others who have turned a blind eye to the Islamist threat for decades. Given the rapidly growing Muslim population in Ireland, let this article serve to energise those who have no desire to see Lucan become the next Trappes or Tower Hamlets.
Muslim areas in France have been described as hotbeds for jihadists. What factors have led to that?
A combination of economic, cultural, social and demographic drivers led to the growth of an alienated community hostile to France that was seized on and exploited by external actors.
The immigrants brought in from North Africa to work in coal mines, auto plants and other industries from the 1950s onwards were herded into social housing projects built by the Communist-controlled local government in the 1960s. Between 1968 and 1975, the immigrant population increased by 325 percent – a trend exacerbated by the 1972 family reunification law, following pressure from immigrant associations and auto industry bosses who wanted a stable workforce.
The town of Trappes, thirty-five kilometres west of Paris, is a typical example.
In the 1970s, Tablighi Jamaat missionaries arrived and targeted immigrant workers, juvenile delinquents and drug addicts. The first prayer room was opened in 1974 in a converted bicycle shed. By 1976, there were a hundred-and-fifty prayer rooms as well as Qur’anic schools. Satellite dishes enabled Muslims to watch Middle Eastern TV channels, exacerbating the phenomenon of alienation and politicising the community.
In the 1980s, the white French as well as Muslims who wanted to assimilate started to move away from Trappes. During this time, the Muslim Brotherhood rolled out their strategy of building mosques and schools in Europe to propagate hardline Islam. Saudi Arabia started sending Wahhabi imams.
In the 1990s, the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) insurrection in Algeria spilled over into France. Jihad thus became a life-choice for young Muslims, particularly those involved in violent crime.
When and how did Trappes become a no-go zone?
The focus on Trappes as an area of concern to national security began in 2016, when it emerged that over sixty Muslim residents had gone to fight for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The process that has led to this is a gradual one that started in the late 1980s and has gotten progressively worse. It goes beyond Islamic radicalism and is also a question of organised gangs and drug dealing. Islamic radicalism and crime have converged to a large extent.
There is also a major political dimension.
In 1998, Jaouad al-Khalili, an IT engineer working at IBM, began to organise the Muslim community in a highly professional manner. He understood that the Muslim population had reached the critical mass sufficient to force politicians to bow to their demands. Education can be a two-edged sword; the people behind the Muslim Brotherhood front organisations in France are all highly-educated.
In 2001, the Socialist Party ousted the incumbent Communist Party in local elections with the help of the Muslim vote. Guy Malandain, who led the Socialist ticket, had promised Muslim leaders that he would authorise the building of a large mosque. Planning permission for the mosque was granted the day after he was elected Mayor. He was re-elected in 2008 and 2014. He also authorised the creation of a Muslim section in the cemetery and a halal abattoir.
In 2003, Safé Bourada, who played a leading role in the 1995 Paris metro bombings that killed eight and wounded two-hundred, was released from prison after serving a ten-year sentence. He went to live in Trappes, where he set up the Ansar al-Fath cell to send combatants to Iraq and plan attacks in France. He was arrested again in 2005 and jailed for fifteen years.
What impact has this had on the face of Trappes?
White flight has created a mono-cultural town. All of the butcher shops are halal. There is only one church and one synagogue (which was torched in 2000) compared to over fifteen-hundred prayer rooms and five mosques. Women do not go into the cafés and are subject to a strict dress code.
The 2010 niqab ban is being upheld to a degree, but enforcement can lead to riots like the one in 2013 when the police station was attacked by a Muslim mob. French authorities are reluctant to confront radical Islam for fear of provoking nationwide urban riots or even an insurrection. The military have had contingency plans to deal with such an eventuality since the 1980s.
How widespread are these no-go zones in France?
The government has a four-tier classification system, ranging from Level 1 outright no-go zones – of which there are twenty-five – to Level 2 ‘very difficult’, Level 3 ‘difficult’ and Level 4 ‘problematic’. The total number of towns for levels 1, 2 and 3 is around one-hundred-and-sixty. This fits in with the figure of one-hundred-and-fifty zones that the French homeland security authorities identify as being “held” by Islamists in a classified report leaked to the press in January 2020.
Police, fire-fighters and medics are regularly ambushed in these districts, hence the term “no-go zones”. In 2005, two juvenile delinquents fleeing the police were electrocuted when they hid in an electricity substation. This incident triggered nationwide urban riots that lasted three weeks and led the government to declare a state of emergency. During the riots, nine-thousand cars were torched, a hundred-and-fifty buses attacked, a hundred post office vehicles destroyed and three-hundred buildings vandalised. The French homeland security authorities categorised the riots as an insurrection.
The majority of these zones are suburbs of large cities, but they also include small towns like Roubaix on the border with Belgium. A 2019 report for the French Prime Minister’s office describes a community “turning in on itself”, with Arabic as the everyday language and a high rate of home schooling. The local police are confronted with what they describe as a “free-for-all and a refusal to respect French law” among the general population, above and beyond the problem of serious crime.
Are there no-go zones in Paris?
Not in terms of fire-fighters and police being able to go in. However, there certainly are Muslim enclaves, such as the La Chapelle and Goutte d’Or districts in the north-east of the city, with a concentration of mosques, prayer-rooms, Islamic bookstores, halal shops and non-profit organisations run by the Muslim Brotherhood. French women are not particularly welcome in these areas, and even Muslim women can be harassed if they are not appropriately dressed. The rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud in the 11th district has long been a Salafist enclave. Geraldine Smith, an American journalist who lived there for many years, published a book about it in 2016.
Five years on from the 2015 attacks in Paris, has anything changed regarding concerns about radicalisation?
There are twenty-thousand people on the radar of the national security authorities. To add to the problem, a large number of those jailed for Islamic terrorism are due for release in the coming years. Forty jihadists were already let out in 2018 and 2019, with another forty due to complete their sentences in 2020. There are currently around five-hundred behind bars and the majority will be out by the end of 2022.
But what is most alarming for the future of France is the attitude of the younger generation of Muslims.
A 2016 poll of seven-thousand French high school students revealed that 32 percent of Muslim students believe that Islamic doctrine is superior to scientific fact, with 33 percent expressing tolerance of violence and social deviance. Another poll revealed that 67 percent of junior high school students believe that Islamic law is superior to French law.
The current generation of French jihadis had just a handful of role models, e.g. Khaled Kelkal and Mohamed Merah. The next generation will have dozens to emulate.
France is no longer under a state of emergency and the threat level feels as if it has been dialled down in the mainstream media. Does that reflect the reality on the ground?
Several measures introduced under the state of emergency have since been voted into law. These measures are enabling law enforcement to keep a lid on the situation, but the threat will not go away. Islamic terrorism began in France in the 1950s with attacks by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), currently the ruling party in Algeria. Terrorism is still a problem seventy years later, but so is non-violent Muslim activism. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin and have a common objective – a society controlled by Islamic law.
President Macron has talked about the economic factors influencing radicalisation and the need to ensure children from Muslim families go to university in a bid to better integrate into French society. Is that the long-term solution?
This argument is a fantasy. Education in France is free and a high school diploma guarantees young people a place in university, which is also free. I don’t believe that economic factors or a lack of access to education are driving Islamisation.
After decades of turning a blind eye, the government is finally realising the extent to which Muslim separatism has taken root and spread throughout France. Two cabinet meetings with ministers from the Interior, Justice, Education, Health, Local Government and Youth were held in December 2019 and January 2020 to examine the problem and build a plan to tackle it, but it is probably too late. President Macron has shied away from the issue but is expected to make a policy statement before the local elections in March 2020.
The root causes of the problem facing France are not economic, but political. They can be traced to four fatal policy errors: (1) the family reunification law of 1972, (2) tolerance of Tablighi Jamaat, Wahhabi-Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood indoctrination of the Muslim population, leading to the emergence of a parallel society, (3) political deal-making with Islamic activists, and (4) the failure to crack down on juvenile delinquents, criminals and terrorists.
Why do you think France has been affected more than other EU countries?
Simply because it has a higher proportion of Muslims among the population. Ethnic and religious statistics are illegal in France, but unofficial estimates put the figure at around 10 percent. This will accelerate in the coming years due to a higher birth-rate among Muslims and continuing legal and illegal immigration from Muslim countries. The problem is just as acute in Belgium, Molenbeek being a prime example. Salah Abdeslam, who was involved in the November 2015 massacres in Paris, could not have remained in hiding there for over three months without the support of the local community. It is now an issue in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom.
What lessons can Ireland learn from the French experience with Islam?
I met Simon Coveney when he was in Paris in 2019. I offered to travel to Dublin to give a briefing on the subject, but I didn’t hear back from him. The Irish Embassy should be aware of what is going on and I trust they are relaying that intelligence to Dublin. The Irish should not enable the establishment of Muslim enclaves and allow the Muslim Brotherhood to pursue their agenda; otherwise, they run the risk of ending up with the problems that France is facing.
When Gérard Collomb resigned as Interior Minister in October 2018, he gave a speech in which he voiced his fear that two communities currently living side by side could one day end up confronting one another. This was a veiled reference to a potential civil war, and some within the defence and intelligence community believe that the war has already begun.