Fighting It– Which European Country Has the Toughest Anti-Terror Strategy?

Surprisingly, it’s France.  This article from WSJ/Opinion Journal points out some of the actions the French have taken:  the author notes, “French prosecutors can hold terror suspects for years without charge; the definition of “links to terrorism” is loose. Every mosque in France is monitored. Since 9/11, the government has cracked down on foreign financing and moved to train “French imams.”  And they haven’t been hit since 1995..

excerpts:

To Keep the Banlieue From Burning
Will France ever integrate its Muslim immigrants?

BY MATTHEW KAMINSKI
Thursday, October 26, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

…Of course the problem is not only French. Much of Western Europe faces the challenge of integrating its Muslim populations, tamping down social unrest and thwarting the threat of radical Islam. The Continent-wide reaction to the Danish cartoons caricaturing Muhammad was a demonstration of the tensions lying not far beneath the surface. Britain experienced terrorist violence with the London subway bombings a little more than a year ago and was the site of the recent thwarted plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners.

What to do? In “Integrating Islam,” Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse focus on France, and for good reason: Home to Europe’s largest Muslim population–at roughly five million people, it constitutes 8% of the country’s total–France is an acid test for the Continent’s efforts to get along with its most recent arrivals. By the end of their analysis, the authors have found reasons for optimism, reaffirming “the much-maligned French model of integration.”At the moment French Muslims, like Muslims elsewhere in Europe, exhibit the pathologies that have long characterized the American underclass. Nearly a fifth of French residents with immigrant origins–a group dominated by North Africans–don’t have jobs. Unemployment among young people in the projects runs as high as 50%. Muslims make up a majority of the French prison population, and in jails near urban areas their numbers approach 70% or 80%. It requires only a short commuter train trip from central Paris or Lyon to come across a culture of drugs, welfare dependency and crime.

…france touts Europe’s highest rate of intermarriage between Muslims and non-Muslims. In the realm of popular culture, its most beloved sports star (Zinédine Zidane) and comic (Jamal Debbouze) hail from Algerian Berber families. Though immigrant birth rates are high, they tend to slow down with each succeeding generation, approaching that of the general French population. A Muslim middle class is tiny but emerging.

An assimilationist outlook may be emerging as well. According to a Pew Global Attitudes survey published in July, 42% of French Muslims consider themselves French first; 47%, Muslim first. (In Britain, the numbers are 7% British first; 81%, Muslim first.) In the same poll, 78% of French Muslims say that they want to adapt to French customs. Another recent survey, this one for La Vie, a Catholic monthly, appears to show that French Muslims aren’t averse to “French” values: 91% of those interviewed approved of gender equality, 73% of the separation of church and state; 69% said that they don’t oppose Muslim women marrying outside the faith.

These statistics came to light after “Integrating Islam” went to print, but they confirm the book’s cautious optimism. Messrs. Laurence and Vaisse argue that French Muslims are a diverse and fast-changing group, in many respects moderate. France, for example, saw virtually no public protests against the Muhammad cartoons, in contrast with other European countries. Dalil Boubakeur, the head of the French Muslim Council, is quoted at length in “Integrating Islam” describing a liberal vision. He calls Islam “a religion and a culture that has combined itself with other cultures and that is now combining itself with Western democracy.” French Muslims, he adds, “wish for a tolerant Islam, humanist, inviting the faithful to live with their times, to accept modernity.”

Sounds good. So why are so many French citizens convinced that relations between Muslims and Christians will get worse and not better? The warning signs go beyond the delinquents who grab headlines by burning cars. The Pew survey also shows that Islamism–the militant, fundamentalist form of the religion–is putting down roots in France, as it is elsewhere in Europe. Mr. Boubakeur may be speaking for only so many.

It matters, then, that France’s anti-terrorism laws are the toughest anywhere in the Western world. French prosecutors can hold terror suspects for years without charge; the definition of “links to terrorism” is loose. Every mosque in France is monitored. Since 9/11, the government has cracked down on foreign financing and moved to train “French imams.” All this–more than the slow integrationist trend that Messrs. Laurence and Vaisse celebrate–may be the reason why France hasn’t been hit by terrorism since a wave of subway bombings in 1995.

The French approach to assimilation, with its insistence on strict secularism and its dirigiste firmness, does not make for an American-style melting pot. But it may well carve a better path to civil peace, over time, than the policies of Europe’s other Muslim-populated countries. The path would run smoother if France could undertake a major economic reform. Remarkably little has been done, even in the year since the riots, to loosen up the restrictive labor codes that do so much to keep poor immigrants–not least poor Muslim immigrants–from finding work and integrating themselves into French life.

Mr. Kaminski, who lives in Paris, is editorial page editor of

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