The Rise of Political Islam in Post-Christian France


When French President Emmanuel Macron announced in 2018 that he wanted “to set down markers on the entire way in which Islam is organised in France”, he was attempting to succeed where previous presidents had failed—the social intergration of Muslims into French society and the heading off Muslim separatism.

An Islam de France would be a religion that accepts the officially-approved values of secularism, that is, laïcité, and avoids the entaglements of what Macron called the extremist Islam of the Arab world. The programme for social integration assumes that Islam is essentially a moderate, non-violent religion, opposed to terrorism and happy to accept the separation of church and state, But, as one academic asks, “What does it mean for a religion to be moderate?”

Today, French Muslims number about six million, that is, nearly nine percent of the population, and are the largest number in any western country. The major influx of Muslims from France’s African colonies came in the Seventies and Eighties. Ominously, the migrants showed little desire to integrate, banding themselves in wretched city suburbs, the notorious banlieues where the police often refuse to enter. These areas too easily became a ripe breeding ground for young radicals groomed by Salafi preachers, some from the Arab countries but often French-born.

When Georges Bensoussan wrote about the notorious banlieues in The Lost Territories of the Republic in 2002, he was condemned as a racist bigot by the country’s elite. However in 2005, after a series of terror attacks in Paris and elsewhere by young Muslims, his thesis seemed to have been verified. The killers came from those city suburbs that are now controlled by Islamists. A recent survey found that half of young French Muslims under 25 would prefer to live under Sharia law rather than national law. The same survey estimated that some 150 municapal districts are controlled by radical Muslims, where Sharia law is openly administered.

The Salafi movement offers an enticing vision of a pure society, organised according to the directions of the Koran and in direct contrast to the pleasure-loving French society today, judged corrupt and lawless. Activists form local action groups to improve local schools, organise sports centres and create job opportunities. Their main instrument of contact with young Muslims is social media via Twitter and Facebook, not the mosque. Their message to their followers in every household is not about terrorism but self-discipline and loyalty to Muslim ideals, and the building of an alternative society.

“Democracy is like a tram. You ride it until you arrive at your destination, then you step off.”
—Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ruler of Turkey
“With your democratic laws we will colonise you; with our Koranic laws we will dominate you.”
Yusuf al Qaradawi, Muslim Brotherhood.

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