…or is it a ghetto problem?
“You have missed Karim, he has gone to Syria,” was the gleeful response when asked about the whereabouts of the young man from his friends in La Courneuve, a vast and a wretched banlieue near Paris.
They, and Karim, had a lot to say about the Charlie Hebdo murders 10 months ago. Most of them had little sympathy for the dead journalists who, they said, had insulted their religion with their cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. A Muslim policeman who was killed during the attack, Ahmed Merabat, was viewed as a traitor. They themselves felt no loyalty, they declared, to the French state.
I bet they take all the benefits and free hospital treatment, though…
Karim had been more restrained, pointing out how wretched housing, poor education and racism by officials left young Muslims feeling hopeless, angry and with a desire to strike back. “I am 19 years old, what chance have I got of having a good job, having a good future?” He had asked.
With an attitude like that? Zero, I’d say.
“They are good people who go, good Muslims; they go to fight for God, they are prepared to be martyrs for their beliefs,” said Rachid. 20. “They are brave people, they went there to fight Assad who is godless, but now the Americans, the French, the British, even the Russians are backing Assad, bombing Muslims, that is the reason they decided to act.” Were those who had returned from Syria and killed 129 people in Paris martyrs? There was an uncomfortable silence, shuffling of feet, the enormity of what happened on Friday appeared to have made them less vocal than after the Charlie Hebdo murders. “No, of course not, that was very wrong,” said Yasin, 18, and unemployed like Rachid. But, he added: “But do we know the whole story? What really happened? It is just the government’s version which you guys, the media, just spread.”
Ah, of course. The perennial excuse, it was ‘the vast Jewish/American conspiracy’ behind it.
I mean, really, how pathetic do you have to be to continually present yourself as a mere puppet, incapable of action or personal responsibility?
Banlieues have played a part in the lives of a majority of other Islamist terror suspects arrested in France. Ten years ago the deaths of 17-year-old Zyed and Bounna Traore, 15, while they were trying to escape from the police in a banlieue, unleashed three weeks of fierce rioting.
You’d think, from this bald statement, that the police gunned them down in a hail of bullets and then stood over the bodies, smoking Gauloises and taking selfies. Not true.
The government had, in fact, been carrying out reconstruction in La Courneuve over the past three years. There is new investment and François Hollande paid a visit to the factory of a recycling company last month. There are promises of new shops and businesses. But old shops and businesses remain closed and residents do not trust official promises.
These places are pretty similar to inner city deprived areas the world over. Always the same demands, always the same lack of drive and determination to better your circumstances. Change the names, and you could be talking about housing estates in Liverpool or Chicago or Manila.
Kotbi Lekbir, director general of Union des Organisations Islamiques de France, based in La Courneuve, wanted to stress: “ The neglect of banlieues has been historic, there is some government work taking place now, but it is still too little and too slow.
“We know, of course, that people who are discontented can be exploited by extremists, by preachers giving the wrong message. We are here to help with any problems the local Muslim population have, spiritual or anything else. We are lucky only a tiny percentage of Muslims turn to extremism and only a tiny percentage of the population turn to Islamophobia. But we must be careful to guide our young.”
Difficult, when fathers often don’t know who they are, and mothers can’t always be 100% certain either.