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After Paris Killings, Focus Returns To Muslim Communities In France


We focus once again on France, where authorities have confirmed that at least three of the Paris attackers were French nationals. And that turns attention to the larger community of French Muslims and whether they are a source of danger or could be in danger themselves from a backlash in the wake of the attacks. Joining us now to talk about this is Jonathan Laurence, a political science professor at Boston College. He has studied the Muslim community in France for his books "The Emancipation Of Europe's Muslims" and "Integrating Islam." Professor Laurence, thanks so much for speaking with us.


MARTIN: From your research, what are the circumstances that would have fed into people who have spent decades or even a lifetime in France staging this kind of attack?

LAURENCE: Well, I think you have to keep in mind that France is the largest source of recruits for the Islamic State in Western Europe in part because it has the largest Muslim minority. There are over 5 million Muslims in France. But if you look at per capita and the number of recruits and foreign fighters who have actually traveled to Syria and Iraq, France is not doing any worse than the U.K. or the Netherlands. In fact, it's doing better than some of the smaller countries, like Norway or Ireland, which send more per capita. Islam is a relatively recently-arrived religion in France. The labor migrants who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s really only settled in the 1980s and 1990s, so there are basic infrastructural deficiencies. There aren't enough mosques. There aren't enough religious schools. There certainly aren't enough imams who know the circumstances of France and the way of daily life. Now, there are things that the government is doing that and has been for really almost 10 or 15 years. But these are long-term processes.

MARTIN: Wait, wait, help me understand that for a second. You're saying that there aren't enough prayer spaces. Why would that contribute to the radicalization of young people? Because they're not - you're saying the only people they're hearing from are radicals? Is that it?

LAURENCE: Well, in part, there was a reluctance to embrace Islam as a national religion. It was always seen as an immigrant religion. And during that period, there was a vacuum. And that vacuum was filled by many Islamist movements. And so when European countries, including France, were deciding to what extent they were willing to include Islam in their national institutions, other countries and other movements were taking up that space.

MARTIN: What about French Muslims themselves? I mean, are there things that French Muslims themselves should be doing to address this?

LAURENCE: Yes, and I think that they have been trying to. It's hard to build this infrastructure without the resources of a state, frankly. Now, there are also, you know, hundreds of civil society groups - religious and nonreligious - who have been combating radicalization. And that is something where the authorities work closely with NGOs and civil society organizations, and where they rely, frankly, on the help of families and colleagues of vulnerable individuals so that they can intervene early.

MARTIN: Talk to me if you would for a minute about whether these incidents become used as a recruiting tool. Do you think that these attacks will serve that purpose?

LAURENCE: I think not. I believe that January's attacks were perhaps more effective recruiting propaganda in a sense because they targeted niche populations. And so the solidarity that we saw following those attacks was genuine, but it was also solidarity with groups other than the majority one. This time, the targets were so general - from cafes and bars to restaurants, a soccer stadium. Really any French citizen could have found themselves in any of those places at any time. And for those French Muslims who might perhaps have some sympathies with a critique of the current global order, I think that this would be such a repulsive act that it would turn them off somewhat. But the importance of national unity is I think something that was very much appreciated in January. But given that recurrence of the attacks, we are going to see great disagreements within the French political class about foreign policy in particular, but also about how to handle religious freedom for Muslims.

MARTIN: Jonathan Laurence is a professor of political science at Boston College. Professor Laurence, thanks so much for speaking with us.

LAURENCE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.