Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

The Muslim Label: How French North Africans Have Become "Muslims" and Not "Citizens"

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

The Muslim Label: How French North Africans Have Become "Muslims" and Not "Citizens"

Article excerpt

In October of 2005, a series of riots broke out in the suburbs of Paris and other major French cities. The upheaval - sparked by the death of two young men being chased by the police - signified the 'boiling point' of marginalized 'jeunes ethniques' (Begag, 2007: xx) who had become increasingly angry at police presence in their neighbourhoods and frustrated by the lack of opportunity and stifling conditions in the banlieues, not to mention laïc policies and the xenophobic rhetoric of conservative politicians. Seven years later, in 2012, rioting continued in a "sensitive urban zone" north of Paris, revealing the ongoing isolation and alienation of French minorities (largely of North African descent) from French social and political life. The French Maghrebi 'Muslim' population (which constitutes the largest 'Muslim' population in Western Europe and North America) (Pew Research Center, 2011: 124) continues to be excluded from the resources that necessarily lead to greater equality and integration into French society. Part of this struggle for social and economic integration, I argue, relates to the historical tendency of the French state to label French North Africans as "Muslims", and not as "true" French citizens.

In this article, I first provide a socio-political account of the historical tendency of French political officials to recognize Islam as the "master status" for French Maghrebis (commonly known as "Arabs" in normal parlance but often referred to as "Muslims" by French politicians in the Interior Ministry), with a special focus on the colonial and post-colonial relationship between "Islamic" Algeria and "secular" France. I argue that the historical focus on the religious background of France's first big wave of "Muslim" immigrants (Algerian harkis who migrated to France following Algerian independence) set the stage for the continual "Muslim" labelling by contemporary French politicians.

Second, I highlight the ongoing focus on the Islamic religious background of first- and second-generation French Maghrebis in modern-day France via the institutionalization of Islam since the 1980s, most recently evident in the 2003 creation of the Conseil Français du Culte Musulman (French Council of the Muslim Faith, or CFCM). The chief concern, I argue, with contemporary initiatives and policy-making geared towards minority populations in France (especially those policies that began in the 1980s) is that far too much attention has been paid to religious institutions and "Muslim" solutions versus core structural areas in need of improvement (e.g., employment, education and housing). Likewise, policies and institutions created at the state level have helped legitimize the stigmatization and prejudices of French Maghrebi "Muslims" in the greater French polity (often seen as the "other", and not as "true" French citizens) and have, alongside traditional French principles of laïcité (secularism) and républicanisme (republicanism), articulated exclusive boundaries of "Frenchness" for people living in France today.

In order to understand this process, special attention will be paid to French minority integration policy-making and discourse (from the 1960s to today), focusing especially on the strategies and rhetoric of Nicolas Sarkozy during his time as Interior Minister (June 2005-March 2007). Recent survey data (e.g. Pew Research and Europol) and previous research on first- and second-generation French immigration will assist in quantifying the degree to which French North Africans are socially and economically stratified. Lastly, academic discourse on the subject of "Islam in France" will provide both an historical background of the treatment of Islam and "Muslims" in France as well as a foundational analysis on which I will build my arguments.

1. French "Muslims"

The subject of minority integration and incorporation in France has received a great deal of attention from sociologists, political theorists and immigration specialists alike. …

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