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Opinion


The other, everyday terror


By Christoph Frei


By Christoph Frei

14 January 2015. After the bloody attacks in Paris, the analytical appraisal has started, and there is a barrage of demands. One of them can be heard and read frequently; it merits a response.

It is the call for an alternative ideology to counter sweeping Islamism in order to protect young people from radicalisation.

Although the postulate is not completely erroneous, it truncates causal relationships in an almost grossly negligent way. If terrorism is to be deprived of fertile soil in the medium term, what is primarily needed is not new ideologies but different conditions on the ground.

France has been an immigration country for more than one hundred and fifty years. For most of the time, working immigrants may not have been culturally integrated, but they certainly were so economically and socially.

Real problems emerged when, during the transition from the industrial to the post-industrial society, unemployment set in. With the deterioration of the living conditions of the lower income brackets, in particular, the rise of the Front National began in the 1980s. The party knew how to exploit fears in a subtle fashion as it emphasised the nation as a place of a homogeneous social body and considered immigrants’ cultural difference to be an obstacle.

Second-class young people

This mixture appealed. It nourished an everyday racism which immigrants’ children born in France, above all, were to notice and to endure. They were French nationals, to be sure, but their economic integration like their social integration largely failed to materialise.

Christoph Frei is an associate professor of political science at the University of St Gallen. He is also on the board of the Liberal Institute.

This has not changed ever since – and nothing embodies the failure of politics in this connection as powerfully as the disgraceful state of the schools in the 'banlieu' ghettos.

People who know France only from their holidays will find it difficult to gauge the whole gamut of exclusion for those who were born into the wrong circumstances with the wrong name.

"Keep out" is what they encounter everywhere, "non" is what they hear when they look for a flat or for work. Rejection, however, is one thing; open humiliation another. The security forces lead the way in everyday life and there has long been empirical evidence of it: more aggressive checks, more frequent investigative custody, longer sentences.

Against the background outlined here, the call for an alternative ideology for young people simply falls short. Preventing young "banlieusards" from going down the slippery slope to petty crime and a propensity towards violence requires a modicum of security – and real opportunities.

Old, undelivered promises

Where such perspectives are missing, marginalisation can assume almost fatal features as if there were no escape. Who remembers the prolonged bloody riots of 2005 in the suburban ghettos of Paris? Under the impression of a veritable explosion of rage and violence, Eva Kimmich wrote at the time: "If extremist Islamists should succeed in providing those young people whose existence is denied and whose identity is violated, with recognition and goals, this kind of social conflagration may turn into an earthquake." Ten years have since passed, and hardly any of the programmes promised in 2005 have been implemented. The latest economic crisis started in 2008.

Terror cells such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State will continue to recruit people worldwide. Those who take note of the miserable careers of last week's three assassins and compare them with the continuing "tristesse" on the ground will not be surprised if France, in particular, will continue to provide cannon fodder for a long time: young extremists with little to lose.

Opinion series

swissinfo.ch publishes op-ed articles by contributors writing on a wide range of topics – Swiss issues or those that impact Switzerland. The selection of articles presents a diversity of opinions designed to enrich the debate on the issues discussed.

University of St Gallen



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