ATbar Secularism and Jihad: Defining Secularism and Islam against French Identity

Secularism and Jihad: Defining Secularism and Islam against French Identity

30/10/2019 | by Sammie Wicks  

The Al Qaida September 11 attacks drastically altered US national security policy and raised doubt about, through these events and responses to them, America’s standing as a global power. Because globalization has increased the level of person to person interaction beyond national borders, the same changes in security policy hold true for several US ally and non-ally countries. Much of the change associated with these challenges had less to do with the September 11th attacks directly, and more to do with the response to those attacks (two ensuing wars that the US fought in Afghanistan and Iraq). Even though the September 11th terrorist attacks were significant, they were not the first terror attacks on US soil or against US interests, including those abroad. The US has experienced periods of both right-wing racially motivated, separatist, and left-wing terrorism. However, the response to these forms of terrorism or the acts perpetrated by these actors has not engendered the same type of response that acts of terror committed by Islamic violent extremist organizations (VEOs) do.

Since September 11, 2001, nations have spent an estimated 4.79 trillion dollars on the war on terror in theatres such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya. Although no country has spent as much money on counterterrorism efforts as the United States, other countries have devoted massive amounts of resources including money, material, and personnel to these efforts. China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom, India, and Germany, after the United States, spend more on defense and counterterrorism than do other nations. One of the countries most affected by terrorism on this list is France, and the French government's resource allocation shows how seriously it takes the threat of terrorism. In 2015, the French government announced that it would enact a counterterrorism program set to cost the country 425 million euros. Aside from the financial cost, the government also deployed 122,000 police and military personnel – including 10,500 troops to protect public spaces throughout the country.

France's interest in combating terrorism appears to be justified. Recent years have seen France serve as a world stage for some of the highest profile and high casualty attacks in the west and the world in general. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism's (START) annual report, Global Terrorism Index (GTI) reflects the dire threat presented by individuals and groups who use terrorism as a tactic against the state. The 2016 GTI report listed France as the 29th country most impacted by terrorism. This ranking is significant because the report ranks France as the most impacted western European country. Another important aspect of this ranking is that most of the countries that precede France on the list are active conflict zones. 

The insecurity in France resulting from terrorism committed by Muslims and self-identifying Muslims (several recent attackers were not particularly observant until the period leading up to their attacks) may explain in part the support Marine Le Pen and her far-right populist and nationalist party, Front National (FN) experienced in the country's elections. The level of support received in these recent elections is much greater than the support they previously enjoyed. Insecurity and terrorism committed by Islamic VEOs have also led to a conversation among French policy-makers about the reasons French citizens are radicalizing. These conversations have led to discussions on the merits of a CVE (countering violent extremism) program in French schools, accompanied by a vigorous CT (counter-terrorism) program.   

Careful consideration of these matters ultimately leads to the question of why France is so often targeted by terrorism and Islamic extremists. One answer may be France’s specific form of secularism. This paper seeks to examine if and how Laïcité interacts with Islamic extremism. Two sub-questions will be explored in trying to understand the relationship or lack of a relationship between Laïcité and Islamic extremism (IE) within the French context. The first question is, does IE inform modern understandings of Laïcité and the crafting of laws? Second, does Laïcité influence policy directly related to IE? To conduct this investigation using a holistic approach this paper will first provide definitions of terrorism within the French context accompanied French laws enacted in response to terrorism. A detailed image of IE and the use of terrorism by Islamic or Islamic inspired VEOs in France will follow. An explanation of Laïcité and its implications within French society will then be provided. This work will also include both policy analysis and historical analysis. Furthermore, this paper will draw on statistics and figures on social inclusion and mobility. Lastly, polling data related to terrorism, refugees, immigration, and Islam will inform this investigation. 

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