The French (non)Connection: A Closer Look at the Role of Secularism and Socio-Educational Disparities on Domestic Islamist Radicalization in France.
Keywords:Radicalization, France, Secularism, Islamist Terrorism, Inequality
Along with the US, France remains among the most impacted Western countries by Islamist terrorism. To explain radicalization in the French context, researchers have emphasized the country’s specificities such as colonialism and secularism (i.e. “Laïcité”) as risk factors. This “French connection” thesis (FCT) proposes that France experiences abnormally high radicalization rates among its Muslim population due to a radical form of State secularism, specific approach to colonialism (“assimilationist”), and the socio-educational disparities affecting French Muslims. For the first time, we propose to closely examine FCT in light of current empirical research on the determinants of radicalization. First, we demonstrate that FCT relies on a flawed premise: domestic radicalization in France is average relative to comparable liberal democracies. We then show that FCT is not in line with current social-psychological knowledge of the determinants of radicalization (e.g. education, socio-economic disparities) and relies on conflations between confounded societal risk factors (e.g. “radical” secularism as a correlate of far-right ideology). As an alternative to FCT, we conclude that structural discrimination and the recent surge in far-right and Islamist ideologies better account for domestic radicalization in France. We also propose that French historical secularism and colorblind values may actually constitute protective factors to be further investigated.
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