In Light of Paris
by Raheel Mohammed
After the horrific attacks in Paris, and the first onslaught of bombs against Isis, there will no doubt be a renewed call for integrating Muslims into European society or a clarion call for shared British values. A good Muslim, according to the former French Defence Minister Alain Richard in a Newsnight interview, is a cultural one not a religious one, as the former won’t go to the mosque that often.
In the UK there will also be a fresh pressure on teachers to spot signs of radicalisation. Is that Muslim pupil suddenly showing more signs of religiosity or an unnatural dislike of western foreign policy? There will also be some chest beating about how slick the Isis campaign is with its use of infographics and media.
The problem with all of these approaches is that they are firmly fixed in silos and Isis has clearly shown that borders of any sorts are not a restriction for them.
There are so called extremism experts who regurgitate the same recommendations that have been doing the rounds for the past few years. These recommendations lack any depth because these are armchair experts. They have never run a campaign to mobilise large groups of people or understand what it means to create a movement, malevolent though it may be.
If it really only took a few viral films or bombs, Paris would not have happened. Nor would the killings in Beirut and Baghdad or the terror Syrians face every day. And it may make some Europeans feel uncomfortable but at a recent conference Maslaha attended in North Africa, the participants felt the force of “global outrage that is selective”.
Instead of trying to force feed Muslim communities integration fodder perhaps we should be looking more closely at the social, cultural and economic context. Are there any consequences of the French state having an estimated 70 percent of prison inmates of Muslim origin, inferred by the academic Andrew Hussey in his book The French Intifada. The French government does not collect figures based on ethnicity or religion, but even if this is inaccurate by 10 or 20 percent, this is a real social problem which will have repercussions for at least a generation. As a comparison, 14 percent of the prison population in England and Wales is Muslim.
We know from our own work in the UK with the Young Review that the disproportionate number of young Muslim men and black men in the criminal justice system is partly due to a lack of understanding about the lives of these men. Practitioners within the criminal justice system discriminate both consciously and subconsciously against these two groups.
Or as our own research in Paris and Marseille has shown that the French policy of laicite (under French law it is illegal to distinguish individuals on the grounds of their religion. You are French first and everything else is second) clearly does not work and instead hides the daily discrimination minority communities face.
The problem remains, as ever, one of borders and frontiers and who controls them, and who chooses where they sit. Borders can of course be physical but also wrap around knowledge, authority, culture, and importantly language. The vocabulary borders currently surrounding Muslim communities remain rigid and policed by the “great and the good” with the language and imagery remaining constantly unimaginative, stifling, and importantly lacking any kind of insight.
And when we have attacks in Paris or Beirut, we need more insight, not less and those borders of understanding need to be widened, not closed down.