Local communities in France’s immigrant suburbs increasingly organize themselves on Islamic lines rather than following the values of the secular republic, according to a major new sociological study.
Respected political scientist Gilles Kepel, a specialist in the Muslim world, led a team of researchers in a year-long project in Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil, two Paris suburbs that exploded in riots in 2005.
The resulting study − “Suburbs of the Republic” − found that religious institutions and practices are increasingly displacing those of the state and the French Republic, which has a strong secular tradition.
Families from the districts, which are mainly populated by immigrants from north and west Africa and their descendants, regularly attend mosque, fast during Ramadan and boycott school meals that are not “halal.”
While the resentment in the poor suburbs has social roots, essentially the residents’ virtual exclusion from a tight jobs market, the rioters expressed frustration in a vocabulary “borrowed from Islam’s semantic register.”
Islamic values are replacing those of a republic which failed to deliver on its promise of “equality”, and the residents of the suburbs increasingly do not see themselves as French, the researchers said.
“One of the reasons for the strong role of Islam is that the Republic has withdrawn,” warned Claude Dilain, the Socialist mayor of Clichy. “Those who fell abandoned seek another identity, and Islam satisfies that well.”
But the report does not support the idea that the state has simply pulled back, to be replaced by Islam.