Nice attack: France's history of 'civilising' North Africa has catalysed radicalisation

Today when people see an Arab, they think that person is a terrorist.”
When people see a woman wearing the veil, people feel themselves attacked, and they reject her.”
Someone who has got an Arab-sounding name, or who doesn’t eat a certain foodstuff, is seen as dubious. It is as if at some point, to be French, you have to have the right name, and eat the right things.”

Soon after the Brussels terror attack, New Statesman spoke to some Muslims and the Imam of a temporary mosque in Toulouse to understand how they were coping. The replies reflected an atmosphere of fear and discrimination that prevails in France against the Muslims.

A number of people are critical of the the role immigration has played in bringing Islam to France, while others like the mayor of a French town are taking a bit more of a an extreme stand: Urging a ban on Muslims and the demolition their makeshift homes.

Authorities investigate the truck after it plowed through Bastille Day revelers in Nice, France. AP

Authorities investigate the truck after it plowed through Bastille Day revelers in Nice, France. AP

According to a report by the Brookings Institute, most Muslims in France came from North Africa, particularly Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

Colonial history

Many parts of North Africa were French colonies. France’s domestic and foreign policy towards the country sowed the seeds of division between the Muslims and the non-Muslims, which is still plaguing the society.

It echoes “The horror! The horror!” of Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. The phrase refers to the imperial policy and the exploitation that happened in the colonies by the colonisers. The colonised people are seen as ‘savages’ and ‘beasts’.

The French rule over North Africa mirrors the situation in any other country which was colonised and robbed of its resources.
According to a piece in The Federalist, the French colonial rule in North Africa was seen as a “civilising mission” to help the natives. The French brought their wealth and secular society to North Africa as a “civilised” alternative to the Muslim way of life.

Most of France’s wealth today has been seized from the colonised people of Polynesia and Senegal, according to Boston Globe.
In 1830, France conquered Algeria and soon after World War I, it took control of Syria and Lebanon and some French settled in North Africa, a Time article said. However, after World War II, North Africans came to France to work in new factories, settling in the poor areas.

The Algerian war for independence in 1962 was bloody and brutal.

The North African immigrants have however, not forgotten their roots and are aware of the history of their country. Some of them harbour much resentment against the French. It's worth pointing out that the people who attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo were of Algerian descent.

However, The New Yorker quoted Ben Ahmed, of Algerian and Tunisian descent, soon after the Charlie Hebdo attack as saying “My French heart bleeds, my Muslim soul weeps. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify these barbaric acts.”

Ahmed works as a liason between residents and the local government in Bondy – a suburb in an area called Department 93.

Muslim ghettos

This area is full of Arab and African-origin residents. The French look at it as a hub of crime, poverty, social isolation and unemployment.

Suburbs dominated by Muslims are often viewed with contempt and suspicion in France.

Ahmed wrote an open letter to President François Hollande titled 'All Partly Responsible, but Not Guilty'. He wrote about the problems of joblessness and discrimination.

These Muslim ghettos are isolated from the city. The Washington Times refers to a study by a think-tank Institute Montaigne that described the Muslim ghettos as “wasteland of the deindustrialisation” or “radical rejection of France”.

On 13 July, Mayor of French town Calais, Natacha Bouchart said that the refugee camp in the town would be demolished very soon, The Independent reported. There are around 4,500 refugees in the area, mostly from North Africa.

France is seen by its critics as a country that continues to meddle economically and militarily to defend its interests in Africa. And its policy of segregation against the Muslims years after its “civilising” mission in North Africa has quite possibly alienated the Muslim youth and sown the seeds of jihad in them.

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Updated Date: Jul 15, 2016 14:36:21 IST

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