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date: 11 December 2019

Muslim Integration and French Society

Summary and Keywords

The subject of Muslim integration has been the focus of much policy development, media engagement, and everyday conversation in France. Because of the strong rhetoric about national identity—a national identity based on Republican ideals of universalism, equality, and French secularism (laïcité)—the question often becomes, “Can Muslims, as Muslims, integrate into French society and ‘be’ French?” In other contexts (e.g., the United States), religion may act as an aid in immigrants’ integration. In Europe, and France specifically, religion is viewed as an absolute hindrance to integration. Because of this, and thanks to a specific migration history of Muslims to France, the colonial grounding for the development of French nationality and secularism, and the French assimilationist model of integration, Muslims are often viewed as, at best, not able to integrate and, at worst, not willing to integrate into French society. The socioeconomic inequality between Muslim and non-Muslim French (as represented by life in the banlieues [suburbs]), the continued labeling of second- and third-generation North African Muslim youth as “immigrants,” the occurrence of terrorist attacks and radicalization on European soil, and the use of religious symbols (whether the head scarf or religious food practices) as symbols of intentional difference all add to the perception that Muslims are, and should be, the subject of integration efforts in France. While the discourse is often that Muslims have failed to integrate into French society through an acceptance and enactment of French values and policies, new research is suggesting that the “failed” integration of Muslims reveals a deeper failure of French Republican universalism, equality, and secularism.

Keywords: integration, religion, Muslims, Islam, France, immigration, laïcité, politics and religion

Are Muslims integrated in French society? This is the question that is at the heart of a great deal of policy development and implementation in France. Furthermore, the question of Muslim integration in Europe, and in France specifically, shows up in the media consistently. When examining articles in Le Monde from 1990 to 2008 with “Muslim” in the headline and lead paragraph, “the overall pattern that is instantly recognizable is a frame of ‘integration’: Have Muslims integrated into France or not?” (Fredette, 2014, p. 39). Most importantly, Muslim integration is the topic of daily conversation in the country at all levels of French society, up to and including the French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron recently (February 2018) suggested that he was working on a plan toward the “structuration de l’Islam de France [the structuring of French Islam]” (d’Allonnes, 2018). Many of the potential goals for this structuring are about reducing the influence of foreign countries and producing an integrated “French Islam,” a goal that French presidents have been working toward for decades. The debate around “French Islam/Islam of France” versus “Islam in France” is further evidence that the integration of Muslims is a central policy and social concern in France (Boubakeur & Dollé, 2004; Bowen, 2004, 2010; Cesari, 2002, 2004; Draille & Frade, 2003; El Karoui, 2016; Fernando, 2014; Fredette, 2014; Laurence & Vaisse, 2006; Raymond, 2009; Zarka, Taussig, & Fleury, 2004). In fact, “questions about integration, equality, racism, and Islam have become central to European politics” in the 21st century (Modood, 2009, p. 104). This is especially true in France, a country with some of the largest populations of Muslims in western Europe and with particularly strong governmental and cultural understandings of the importance of integration.

Religion is understood to be a hindrance to integration in secular (especially European) societies. Religion, or one’s religious identity, may be a strong limiting factor to one’s integration, especially if one’s religious identity and practices reinforce strong connections to the homeland instead of integration into the hostland (Adida, Laitin, & Valfort, 2016; Levitt, 2003). Alternatively, while a minority position in the French context, some scholars argue that religion can be a powerful means of, or support for, integration (Brown, 2016; Connor, 2014; Hirschman, 2004). Ultimately, the question becomes, “can Islam become a workable reality for Muslims who wish to live fulfilling [and, one might add, integrated] social and religious lives in France?” (Bowen, 2010, p. 5; Fernando, 2014).

Because of the current climate around Muslim immigration in Europe, the centrality of European secularism, and the drive for clearer and better integration policies (often because of radicalization and securitization fears), the question of “are Muslims integrated in French society” is constantly at the forefront of these discussions. While this is not a new question, the amount of research on the subject is growing, and new research is revealing that, while many have seen religion as a barrier to integration, religion could perhaps play a role in the integration process for many Muslims in France.


Definitions: Types of Integration

Though the term “integration” takes on mythical dimensions in 21st-century debates (Xanthaki, 2016, p. 815), before one can address Muslim integration in France it is important to bring the mythical into reality and try to define what is meant by “integration.” Is integration simply a political and civic term? Or are there social, cultural, and economic elements to integration as well? Is it structural or philosophical? Is it something that is only at play in discussions around immigration? Or can one talk about integration for citizens who were born and raised in the country? Is it a one-way or two-way process? How does the discussion around the integration of Muslims in France change depending on which definition of integration is operative?

First, there are generally two streams of integration: (a) integration of vulnerable people—old persons, persons with disabilities, children, and women—and (2) integration of migrants and members of minorities (Xanthaki, 2016). This second stream is what many people think of when they think of integration, especially in France and especially when talking about Muslim integration. Most of the research on Muslim integration in France falls within and is impacted by the research on immigrant integration more generally. The definitions and understandings of integration that relate to immigrants and minorities are therefore the focus of this article.

A couple of important dichotomies come to the fore when discussing immigrant or minority integration. The first is that of political/civic/structural/economic versus social/cultural/ethical/philosophical integration. On one hand, for some, integration is strictly a political term, used to describe the policies and programs (the structures) in place in a country to aid in the incorporation of immigrant communities into the larger society. Economic support systems, governmental programing, such as language programs, and civic values courses are just some examples of the ways in which integration is worked out and supported. Within this definition, integration is about the host society’s ability to support newcomers and to help them to find place and space within their new country through official programs and policies. Depending on the context, immigrants would be expected to avail themselves of these supports/programs and to commit to some level of engagement with state policies.

The European Union’s principles of immigrant integration suggest that this political and civic aspect of integration is essential. The fourth principle relates clearly to civic integration in that the immigrant is expected to have a basic knowledge of the host society’s language, history, and institutions, which is often represented in civic and language classes (Joppke, 2007). Three other EU principles are also reflective of the political/civic understanding of integration: namely, (a) the third principle, which emphasizes employment as a key element of integration; (b) the fifth principle, which highlights efforts in education as a means of preparing immigrants to be active participants in society; and (c) the ninth principle, which stresses the participation of immigrants in the democratic process and the formation of integration policy (Council of the European Union, 2004). Even within this type of definition of integration, there are multiple levels on which to determine if an individual or community of immigrants is integrated. That is, individuals might have civic nationality, that is, they might have gone through the language courses on offer and availed themselves of multiple government programs, but they may not have sufficient economic integration, and, therefore, depending on what kind of integration one has in mind, one may argue that these immigrants are integrated while others suggest they are not. According to Adida et al. (2016),

integration is successful to the extent that there are no structural constraints in the society preventing members of these immigrant groups from competing in the labor market (or other markets, such as housing or marriage) equally with members of the host society. (p. 12)

On the other hand, another definition of integration looks beyond the governmental and policy programs and support in place and focuses on the social and cultural integration of minority communities (whether migrant or not) within the society. In this sense, there is often some idea (often unspoken) of what it means to be integrated to, or acting in line with, cultural and societal norms and expectations. An example of a governmental program that is a major agent of this kind of integration is state-run public schools. Bowen (2010) suggests everyone develops similar values and orientations by participating in public institutions, starting with schools. Ultimately these similar values and orientations are the grounding for this type of integration and instead of being about political citizenship are more about cultural citizenship. That is, there is a claim to belonging that is acknowledged by others, and one has access to this belonging when one shows the ability to traverse the cultural-symbolic boundaries of identity (Beaman, 2012). It is this more “symbolic integration” that is often invoked to suggest that Muslims are not integrated into French society; they are outside of the cultural citizenship. Fredette (2014) suggests that cultural citizenship is often about “shared culture,” but then she asks, “what counts as culture and why don’t Muslims fit?” (p. 153).

Whether talking about political or cultural integration, another definitional dichotomy arises, and that is whether integration is a one-way or two-way process. If it is a one-way process, the responsibility for integration lies completely with either the host society (as often represented by government agencies and policies) or the immigrant themselves. If it is a two-way process, the responsibility for integration lies with both parties equally; that is, both the immigrant and the host country must change and accommodate the other (Joppke, 2007). The two-way nature of immigrant integration is emphasized in the European Union’s principles of immigrant integration in that the first principle states that integration is a two-way process, wherein the state must create “the opportunities for the immigrants’ full economic, social, cultural, and political participation” (Council of the European Union, 2004). The migrant must also, according to the second principle, “respect the basic values of the European Union” including, liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.

These two dichotomies—political or cultural, one-way or two-way—are invoked and used differently within the various definitions of integration. Modood (2009) suggests that there are three different terms at work when people speak about immigrant integration, which all function slightly differently: assimilation, integration, and multiculturalism. Assimilation is a one-way process where

the desired outcome for society as a whole is seen as involving the least change in the ways of doing things for the majority of the country and its institutional policies . . . newcomers do little to disturb the society they are settling in and become as much like their new compatriots as possible. (p. 104)

Adida et al. (2016) posit that this assimilationist model is based on the idea that there is cultural incompatibility between the host group and the immigrant group and therefore “integration is best achieved through compulsory assimilation policies” (p. 13). While some see assimilation as equaling integration, Modood argues that they are in fact two different processes. Unlike assimilation, integration is a two-way process where “members of the majority community as well as immigrants and ethnic minorities are required to do something; so that the latter cannot alone be blamed for ‘failing to or not trying to integrate’” (Modood, 2009, p. 104; see also Joppke, 2007). Finally, multiculturalism is a third option, a subsetting of integration, where “processes of integration are seen both as working both ways while also working differently for different groups . . . each group is distinctive and thus integration cannot consist of a single template” (Modood, 2009, p. 104). Adida et al. (2016) also describe a multiculturalist approach to integration that rejects cultural incompatibility and argues for cultural pluralism. Under this model, assimilation is “impossible or even counterproductive and more likely to reinforce preexisting cultural identities” (p. 13). Regarding integration and Muslims in France, we show how these various definitions are often in place and operative within different perspectives and judgments around whether said integration is “successful” or “unsuccessful” and whether integration is viewed “positively” or “negatively.”1

Integration in France

Within the French context, the consensus in the scholarship is that an assimilationist model and definition of integration is what is operative, such that integration = assimilation (Adida et al., 2016; Archick, Belkin, Blanchard, Ek, & Mix, 2012; Ajala, 2014; Baran & Tuohy, 2011; Beaman, 2012; Bowen, 2010; Freedman, 2004; Lepinard, 2014; Mazawi, 2010; Schain, 2008; Scott, 2007; Selby, 2014; Worbs, 2006). In fact, France is the strongest example of this model in western Europe (Ajala, 2014). Joppke (2007) challenges this consensus and claims that there has been a rejection of any presumption of “cultural assimilation” in France since the 1990s (p. 1). For Joppke there is a difference between integration and assimilation, even in France:

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy illustrates this stance: “‘L’intégration, c’est: ‘Je t’accueille dans le creuset républicain comme tu es.’ L’assimilation, c’est: ‘Je te fais disparaıtre.’” (Integration means: “I welcome you to the Republican melting pot just as you are.” Assimilation means: “I make you disappear.”) (p. 2)

Furthermore, the Haut Conseil D’Intégration (HCI), echoes this stance by marking out a difference between political and ethical integration so that under political integration the identity of everyone must be respected and therefore must be distinct from assimilation (Joppke, 2007, p. 14). Wihtol de Wenden, Salzbrunn, and Weber (2013) agree with Joppke and argue that while many see France as assimilationist and universalistic, there is regionalism and exceptionalism present that challenges the classic model of assimilation (pp. 40–41). Elsewhere, Body-Gendrot and Wihtol de Wenden (2014) state that while the assumption is that newcomers will “abandon their collective behaviours in the public space. The reality is more complex,” and, in fact, “France has always been a multicultural country built on internal diversities” (p. 17). What becomes clear is that, despite this nuance and the grounding for a distinction between integration and assimilation within Republican ideals, on the ground level assimilation is the name of the game in French integration.

This assimilationist policy is “rooted in the historical process of centralization and nation building” (Worbs, 2006, pp. 42–43). In a context such as France where a national, unified identity is the professed ideal, the integration of newcomers into that identity is a focus of politics and of daily interaction. People who do not “fit,” visibly and/or ideologically, into the majority, secular French population are faced with questions about their integration on a frequent basis. Whether they claim or have French national identity (civic and political integration) often does not matter. They are viewed as a “them” and as people who need to be integrated to an idea of cultural citizenship, mentioned earlier; they need to integrate to “be French.”

The idea of “being French” is rooted in the revolution of 1789 and the emergence of the Republic (Hargreaves, 1995, p. 160). Notions of “Frenchness” and the integration to it are consequently rooted in the Republican tradition (Archick et al., 2012). The French Republican ideals of universalism, unitarism, secularism, and assimilation dictate, to a large extent, French nationalism (Freedman, 2004). It follows that, to “be French” is to be unified with other French people, to not be distinct. As Bakht (2012) explains, “common republican identity must take precedence over any divergent aspect of an individual’s identity” (p. 82). Universalism is the key to French national identity and is based on the equation that universalism = equality (Scott, 2007). In France “equality is achieved, in French political theory, by making one’s social, religious, ethnic, and other origins irrelevant in the public sphere; it is as an abstract individual that one becomes a French citizen” (Scott, 2007, p. 11). If one must be an abstract individual, then “the very idea of ‘minorities’ or even ‘races’ and policies referring to such categories is rejected in French politics” (Worbs, 2006, pp. 42–43). Baran and Tuohy (2011) explain that this assimilationist approach “insists such differences [religion and ethnicity] must melt away as immigrants blend into a single French identity” (p. 11). As Wihtol de Wenden et al. (2013) argue,

[French] national identity has never been defined by immigration, because it has been built on the myth of ethnic homogeneity of its population . . . newcomers are considered to be individuals who must disappear in a predefined political model and leave their specificities at the door. (p. 30)

It is as individuals, not as members of a community, that immigrants enter in to the French republican model of citizenship (Fernando, 2014). To be French is to be “only” French. Equality then, comes through sameness (Freedman, 2004), and ultimately some have an easier time with sameness than others. Geisser, Marongiu-Perria, and Smaïl (2017) suggest that “Français de souche” have a much easier time fitting with this national identity than so-called “Français d’origine étrangère” (p. 279).

This French Republican model of integration, which Lepinard (2014) argues was designed in the 1980s, is a one-way model of integration. While Sarkozy and the HCI stress that integration is a two-way process, and while at base Republican ideals of liberté, égalité, and fraternité (liberty, equality, and fraternity) allow and emphasize the importance of two-way integration, the integration philosophy at play in France places the burden of integration on the migrant. This philosophy “emphasizes a common, national, civic culture instead of pluralism, an abstract concept of citizenship, color-blindness, and the effort that immigrants must make to integrate into the nation rather than the duty of the host society to integrate immigrants” (Lepinard, 2014, p. 617). An example of this in the French context is the 2003 Contrats d’accueil et de l’integration (Welcome and Integration Contracts) program, initiated by Sarkozy while he was the Minister of the Interior in France. Under this program new arrivals were expected to attend a day of civics instruction, which was followed by language instruction if deemed necessary (Joppke, 2007). Furthermore, migrants signed “integration contracts” wherein they committed to respect the fundamental values of the Republic (Freedman, 2004; Wihtol de Wenden et al., 2013). The responsibility was therefore placed on the migrant to integrate (assimilate) to the universal, cultural identity in France.

Laïcité and French Integration

The question then arises: What is the basis of cultural citizenship and therefore the thing to which immigrants must “symbolically integrate”? The French Republican tradition, to which one was agreeing by claiming French identity and citizenship, often involves an “imposition of cultural unity in the form of a centralized and secular Republic with one language (as opposed to many regional languages) and a unified culture” (Freedman, 2004, p. 10). For many, the distinct form of French secularism (laïcité) is foundational to the “unified culture” of France (Modood, 2009). At base, the equality of Republicanism is enforced by laïcité; it is about equality through invisibility (Simon, 2008), especially the invisibility of one’s religious identity.

Laïcité in France finds its philosophical grounding in the 1905 law separating church and state. At that time, religious signs and beliefs were restricted to the private sphere, but it was not until 1946 that the term, and what it represents, was enshrined in the French constitution (Selby, 2012; Selby, 2014). Some scholars argue that the laïcité that is operative in France today is a new definition of laïcité that is somewhat distinct from the “original.” Lepinard (2014) argues that this new definition is influenced by the French Republican model of integration—for example, pre-2004 the legal definition of laïcité never implied a prohibition of religious dress (p. 618). Furthermore, “though laïcité is often declared to be the cornerstone of the republic, it has never been a unified or stable formation” (Fernando, 2014, p. 10). This allows for variation in application and impact on questions of religious integration and, according to Fernando, leads to France’s need to constantly redraw its boundaries and regulate its citizens.

At base, laïcité is about religious freedom; it does not necessarily erase all of religion or religious practice from France.2 It is about creating “a neutral public space in which religious belief, practices, and institutions have lost their political significance, fallen below the threshold of political contestation, or been pushed into the private sphere” (Hurd, 2008, p. 5). Adida et al. (2016) show how “laïcité does not imply the irrelevance of religion in public life; rather, it enjoins the French not to talk openly about religion in public settings” (p. 19). According to Keaton (2006) “la laïcité was intended to establish equal protection for all people under a ‘neutral,’ non-religiously influenced state, while allowing freedom of religious expression and free thinking within state institutions” (p. 177). An essential distinction arises though regarding what religious freedom means in France. First, according to Frégosi (2011), “the question of freedom of religion in France is often understood within a minimalist perspective of individual rights and almost never in regard to collective rights referring to the existence of religious communities” (p. 197). A clear illustration of the unique religious freedom at work in France can be seen from the comparison of the separation of church and state in France and in the United States. While in the United States religious freedom is “freedom of religion,” in France, religious freedom, as enshrined in the constitution, is more about “freedom from religion” (Laurence & Vaisse, 2006; Scott, 2007). While in the United States secularism was established to protect religion from the state, in France, the drive for secularism was one of freeing “the state from undue religious influence” (Thomas, 2012, p. 186). Religion, therefore, is a highly private affair in France.

With this idea of French national identity in place (universal, equal, and secular), it becomes clear why communautarisme is seen as a threat by many people in France (Bowen, 2010). Communautarisme “refers to the priority of group over national identity in the lives of individuals; in theory there is no possibility of a hyphenated ethnic/national identity—one belongs either to a group or to the nation” (Scott, 2007, p. 10). Mazawi (2010) defines it as the “ghettoization of ethnic communities,” whether physically or socially/culturally (p. 177). This nonintegration, ironically often labeled the consequence of failed integration policies, is a real concern for French national identity, which is supposed to dissolve difference rather than emphasize it. Yet, an overemphasis on national unity will often lead to minorities experiencing feelings of marginalization, which in turn pushes newcomers to rely on their ethnic, religious, and cultural communities even more and, in turn, increases communautarisme (Kastoryano, 2018; Stambouli & Soltane, 2011). This experience of marginalization and resultant communautarisme is often thought to be especially relevant for religious individuals in France, and even more so for Muslims in France.

Integration and Religion

Lepinard (2014) argues that religion, the accommodation of religion, and integration should be separate policy fields, based on different legal grounds, yet, repeatedly, immigrant integration policies influence “the actors in charge of regulating religion in liberal states” (p. 615). Religion and integration inevitably become tied up with one another. Studies in religion and migration reveal that religion is a factor that can both help and hinder immigrant integration, both structurally and philosophically, depending on the context (Connor, 2014; Connor & Koenig, 2013; Foner & Alba, 2008; Hirschman, 2004; Lewis & Kashyap, 2013; Mooney, 2013). Many of these studies show that in contrast to the United States, where religion often serves to help the migrant in their integration, in the western European context religion is often a hindrance to integration; this is especially true in the case of France. The possible role that religion can play in integration therefore becomes a “difficult ideological problem in a highly secular state” (Awad, 2013, p. 435). When it comes to religion and integration in France, people are “free to behave in accordance to their own cultures and religions,” but that is “limited by some specific boundaries . . . for example, religion and culture are not transferable into the public and political sphere” (Stambouli & Soltane, 2011, p. 149). In fact, 40% of the public in France and 20% of French Muslims “thought that being less expressive about one’s religion was necessary for integration” (Cesari, 2013, p. 13). It follows, then, that for many in France, religion cannot possibly play a role in the political/civic/structural aspect of integration, since religion must be kept in the private sphere and many of these structures are enacted in public institutions. Taking this a step further though, religion is also a hindrance to sociocultural understandings of integration in France, since cultural citizenship, and symbolic integration to this national norm, are fully based on the idea of a neutral individual identity. Therefore, religious identification and practice are stumbling blocks to a fully “integrated” French identity.

It is essential to note at this point that “religion” in general is considered a hindrance to integration in European society, not necessarily just Islam. “The core-matter in depth is a specific European fear from the broader phenomenon of religiosity in general” (Awad, 2013, p. 439; Laurence & Vaisse, 2006). Europe is “a continent that thinks it’s secular” (Modood, 2009, p. 103). Therefore, clinging to religious practices and/or a religious identity often makes one non-European (Connor, 2014). Because religion must be kept in the private sphere, which, according to Casanova (2004) is a “taken-for-granted characteristic of the self-definition of a modern secular society,” those societies that hold to this approach to secularism “have a much greater difficulty in recognizing some legitimate role for religion in public life and in the organization and mobilization of collective group identities” (p. 9). Mooney (2013) argues, therefore, “immigrants to France, whether they are Christian, Muslim, or another religion, encounter a hostile context of reception regarding religion” (p. 101). Along these lines, Geisser et al. (2017) go so far as to say that it is not so much Muslims but Islam as a visible religion that is the problem (p. 254). In Europe, then, the conversation around religion and integration is “essentially structured around the question of the compatibility of religion and national identity,” and, in this case, “religion is conceived as the element preventing a full integration, as shown by the belief held by European general populations that removing public signs of religiosity is necessary for integration” (Ajala, 2014, p. 124). This is especially true in contexts where national identity is based on the removal of collective group identities, religion included, from the public sphere, as is the case in France. The major debate becomes: Is religion (usually meaning Islam) incompatible with Republican values (Stambouli & Soltane, 2011)?

As much as European society, and specifically French society, sees religion in general as a hindrance to integration, scholarship is clear that Islam is viewed as particularly problematic for integration. Cesari (2013) posits that “the symbolic integration of Muslims within national communities would require a dramatic change in the current liberal and secularist narratives” as the institutional and conceptual forms of secularism are linked to Christianity (p. 144). This is especially the case in “Christian-Heritage” societies as Adida et al. (2016) label them. According to European secularism, it is not Islam’s stance as a “true religion” that is at issue, but, instead, “Europeans want Muslims to be more secular-minded” (Roy, 2004, p. 26). Geisser et al. (2017) found that the French tend to accept discreet religious practices but reject “public Islam” as a menace to the central values of French identity, namely secularism (p. 255). So though French secularists may say “religion” conflicts with secularism, they usually mean Islam (and visible Islam at that) conflicts with republican values and is therefore incompatible with citizenship and political integration (Stambouli & Soltane, 2011). Hurd (2008) argues that laïcité

reproduces itself and the national identities with which it is affiliated as legitimate, democratic, and modern by representing Islam as irrational, despotic, and antimodern . . . negative representations of Islam do not merely reflect the political authority of laicism. They help to constitute it. (p. 54)

This kind of rhetoric sets up Islam as the barrier to the integration of Muslims in laïque France.3

As a result, there is a consensus among the majority French population that Islam, and therefore Muslims, are particularly difficult to integrate (Adida et al., 2016; Ajala, 2014; Archick et al., 2012; Cesari, 2013; Fredette, 2014; Geisser et al., 2017; Selby, 2014). Cesari presents the various trends that emerge from surveys of opinions on Muslims in the West, and the most common trend is that Muslims have not and will not integrate. She suggests that the reasons given for this stance vary from Muslims being “unintegratable” to “they could but do not want to” (p. 19; see also Adida et al., 2016). For example, in a 2010–2011 Institut Français d’Opinion Publique (IFOP) report in France, 68% of respondents said that Muslims are not well integrated into French society, and 61% of the French people surveyed believed that it was the result of Muslims’ refusal to do so (Cesari, 2013, p. 19; Selby, 2014, p. 50). Geisser et al. (2017) provide statistics from a 2012 IFOP study that revealed that 83% of politically right–leaning respondents claimed that Muslims are not well integrated in France, and 79% of them believed this lack of integration was explained by the attitude of Muslims themselves, some even suggesting that Muslims voluntarily refuse to integrate (p. 255).

While globally there are biases and Islamophobic responses toward Muslims, there is something unique about the French context. Unlike in other European contexts, for example the United Kingdom and Germany, where a general multicultural approach to secularism is at work, the emphasis on a strict laïcité largely determines this uniqueness.4 The real “problem” and barrier of Islam to integration in France is the idea that Islam refuses secularism, therefore refuses the French state, and therefore cannot be integrated (Freedman, 2004). The public perception is that Islam is the new “threat” to long-standing Republican traditions (Mazawi, 2010; Selby, 2012).5 Bowen (2010) suggests that this is based on two major claims/assumptions about French Muslims: (a) “some French Muslims have an insufficient commitment to secularism, because they place religious commands above national or secularist ones” and (b) “some French Muslims have not completely assimilated French values because they have retained pieces of their ‘cultures of origin’ that are at odds with the dominant values of France” (p. 188). Islam is ultimately portrayed as incompatible with democratic society and therefore impossible to integrate (Mossière, 2016). In a secular state that insists on universalism, equality, and secularism, these are serious barriers to integration.

Beaman (2012) suggests that while it “promotes a colorblind ideology that downplays racial and ethnic differences, France actually has a narrow definition of what it means to be French” (p. 50). In fact, scholars such as Fredette (2014) suggest that France holds a racial and religious model of French citizenship, such that to be French is to be White and Christian, a way of thinking that is based in Edward Said’s (1979) “dichotomous thinking”—that is, “they” will never be like “us” (p. 153). She goes on to argue that Muslims are incapable of integrating under this way of thinking because they lack both elements of French “cultural citizenship”; that is, “they are frequently not white, and they are all not Christian” (Fredette, 2014, p. 153). Fernando suggests that one can see this in “the dilemma of how to be Muslim French in a world in which Muslim means not French and French means not Muslim” (p. 37). Muslims are excluded, both symbolically and physically, from notions of French citizenship and therefore are rendered “conditional citizens” (Fernando, 2014, p. 46). This is the reason that, according to Adida et al. (2016), Muslims are always and inevitably viewed as “other” in France, and why Islamophobia is present; it does not matter if Muslims are integrated on all levels possible—their existence as Muslim qua Muslim is what makes them always and forever “unintegratable” in the eyes of “rooted” French.

While most studies on religion and integration, and specifically Muslim integration in European contexts, fall in the “hindrance to integration” camp, there are some scholars who argue that religion can help integration, even in Europe and even for Muslims. Broadly speaking, this position tends to focus on the role of religion in providing the three Rs made famous by Charles Hirschman (2004): refuge, respect, and resources. Often “associations involving Muslims, only some of them religious, have come to provide a major set of pathways to integration” (Bowen, 2010, p. 181) through acting as a principle site for the civic integration programs (language and history courses), socioeconomic supports, and sociocultural engagement (Selby, 2012) that are seen as essential to integration. Furthermore, religion can act as a pathway to integration, at least economic integration, through the “entrepreneurial strategies of immigrants in developing ethnic and religious markets in France” (Stambouli & Soltane, 2011, p. 147); this is especially clear in the development of the halal market and the hajj market in France. Religion can help, but why is it usually seen as a hindrance, and why, in particular, is Islam the “integration problem” in France?

Muslim Integration in France

It is very good to have yellow French people, black French people, brown French people. They show that France is open to all races, and that it has a universal calling. But on the condition that they remain a small minority. Otherwise, France would no longer be France. We are above all, after all, a European people, with a Greek and Latin culture, and the Christian religion. Do not let anyone tell you other-wise. The Muslims, have you gone to see them? You have seen them, with their turbans and their djellabas? You see well that these are not French people. Advocates of integration are birdbrains, even if they are researchers. Try to mix oil and vinegar. Shake the bottle. After a bit, they will separate once again. Arabs are Arabs; the French are French.

Charles de Gaulle (quoted in Fredette, 2014, p. 152)

Although this quotation from Charles de Gaulle, written in a letter to his confidante Alain Peyrefitte in 1959, can, and often is, argued away as outdated and simply a reflection of the time, similar statements by other, more recent politicians reflect similar sentiments (i.e., Jacques Chirac’s “noise and smell” comments in 1991; Marine le Pen’s “this is not the French way” in 2017). The idea that Muslims could, or should, integrate in France is viewed as an impossibility, as the dreaming of “birdbrain researchers.” Beyond the reasons outlined here, in relationship to Islam and integration in secular European societies more broadly, there are aspects to the “Muslim experience” in France that make it so when one talks of “integration in France” one immediately thinks of “Muslims.” The rest of this article explores the key themes and conversations that arise when discussing Muslim integration in France.

Muslims in France


Although Muslims have lived in France since the Moor invasions from Spain in the eight century (Selby, 2014, p. 23), and even though Algeria was a French colony and therefore Algerian Muslims were French citizens for over 100 years, Muslims are often viewed as irreducibly “other” in France, as always immigrant, and therefore as the usual focus of integration policy and rhetoric. Even with the political acceptance of North Africans, specifically Algerians, as full-fledged citizens of the French Republic during the colonial period (Shepard, 2009), they were still considered irreducibly “other” and were held to the periphery of the labor market and other French social structures (Eid, 2007; Wihtol de Wenden et al., 2013). Hurd (2008) posits that this colonial othering played a key role in defining Republican laïcité; it was “in part the effect of the differentiation of a civilized laïcist colonizer from an uncouth, Islamic colonized Algerian” (p. 55).

During this time, “the formal nationality held by Algerians often came with fewer benefits than the foreign status of many Europeans” (Dewhurst Lewis, 2007, p. 194). This could be further viewed by the fact that French Algerians were given citizenship cards that labeled them as “Français musulman(e)” (French Muslims), not simply “French” (Shepard, 2006, p. 2). This label of “Muslim” was more of a legal than a religious category but still had a significant impact (Shepard, 2006). In fact, after the Algerian war of independence, “French military personnel were ordered to discriminate ethnically between Muslim and other ‘French’ refugees seeking passage to France” (Thomas, 2012, p. 48). Due to a label on their citizenship documents that was different from the “European French,” Muslims were immediately othered.6 This sets up the idea of “two immutable entities: Muslim ‘immigrants’ and France” (Scott, 2007, p. 74). In this it becomes clear how the groundwork is laid for equating “Muslim” with “North African,” and vice versa, so that if a person is North African he or she is immediately considered Muslim,7 and therefore immediately “other,” in the eyes of many French.

Another equation of terms that impacts the discussion around Muslim integration in France is that of “immigrant” as synonymous with “Muslim” (Ajala, 2014; Archick et al., 2012; Casanova, 2004; Cesari, 2013; Fernando, 2014; Laurence & Vaisse, 2006; Lepinard, 2014; Scott, 2007; Selby, 2014).8 Lepinard argues that it is more about being “immigrant” than “Muslim” that leads to restrictions of individual practice—the policy frame of integration is what matters, not secularism, not church–state relations—but, because most Muslims in Europe are immigrants, or children of immigrants, this leads to a conflation of immigration issues with the regulation of minority religions (p. 612). Because of this equation/conflation of terms, questions around immigrant integration inevitably get tied up with the integration of Muslims in France. Furthermore, “in Europe the association of Islam and immigration has led to a tightening of immigration laws specifically targeting migrants from Muslim countries” (Cesari, 2013, p. 2).

Another reason why Muslim integration is the focus of discussion in France is because of the number of Muslims living in the country. France has the largest populations of Muslims in western Europe (from 3.5% to 6%; Archick et al., 2012, pp. 6, 15; Cesari, 2013, p. 2; El Karoui, 2016; Frégosi & Kosulu, 2013, p. 195; Kaya, 2009, p. 62; Laurence & Vaisse, 2006, p. 1; Withol de Wenden et al., 2013, p. 45). While it is hard to know exact numbers since France does not collect data on religious identification (thanks to laïcité, égalité and an anti-multiculturalist stance), Selby (2014) suggests that estimates suggest 5% to 18% of the total French population are Muslim (pp. 26–27). A 2011 Pew Research Center study suggests that there are 4.7 million Muslims in France, which equates to roughly 7.5% of the population. In terms of ethnic background, most of France’s Muslims are Algerian and Moroccan, some Tunisian, some Middle Eastern, and some from Sub-Saharan Africa (Archick et al., 2012, p. 15). Even though there is a presumption of uniformity, because of the North African majority in the population, there is a vast diversity of experiences and understandings about what it means to be “Muslim” and to be “Muslim in France” (El Karoui, 2016). Fredette (2014) stresses this diversity and suggests that Muslim identity in France is highly intersectional (pp. 8–9). While many of France’s immigrants are Muslims, “their Islam is not a uniform faith with a unique expression” (Stambouli & Soltane, 2011, p. 151).9 In fact, El Karoui suggests, in the Insitut Montaigne’s study “A French Islam Is Possible,” that the discussion should be about Islams, not Islam, in France. This makes it difficult to talk about one type of integration that happens or “should” happen for this diverse community.

Migration History

The migration history of Muslims to France does have an impact on the demographics of Muslim communities in the country, as well as the resultant integration policies and perspectives that are created in response to these migrant communities. First, the influence of colonialism and the type of immigration that occurred/occurs out of the colonial relationship impacts the kind of “integration” necessary in European contexts that is different from North American contexts (Cesari, 2004). While Muslim immigration was happening much earlier than the colonial period in France, most studies on Muslims in France focus on 20th-century migration patterns as the foundation for integration policies and practices. While every scholar suggests slightly different waves, most break them down into three principle waves: (a) a World War I through the interwar period, (b) post–World War II until the 1960s–1970s, and (c) mid- to late 1970s until the beginning of the 21st century. Briefly, in the first wave, Muslim migrants were coming principally as migrant laborers to either serve in the French army or to “fill a labour gap in the post-war reconstruction boom” (Cesari, 2002, p. 195; see also Body-Gendrot & Wihtol de Wenden, 2014; Fredette, 2014; Kaya, 2009; Selby, 2014; Stambouli & Soltane, 2011; Wihtol de Wenden, et al., 2013). These “immigrants” were in fact not immigrants at all but French nationals coming mostly from Algeria, which was part of France at the time (Cesari, 2002). The second wave was like the first, just an intensification of it, and, most importantly, near the end of this wave workers were coming from newly independent states (Cesari, 2002). In both immigration waves, the migrants were mostly young men and were mostly expected to go “home” (i.e., back to their country of origin). There was therefore no real expectation that they would “integrate” socially or politically, since their stay in France was meant to be temporary (Body-Gendrot & Wihtol de Wenden, 2014; Stambouli & Soltane, 2011).

With an increasing economic crisis and migrant workers not going home as planned, in 1974 France officially closed its doors to immigration, thus starting the third wave of migration. This did not mean that immigration halted completely, but “it did mean a movement toward selection and selective exclusion” in France’s immigration policies (Schain, 2008, p. 61). While formal immigration stopped, family members of the migrant workers from the first two waves of immigration constituted the largest number of immigrants in France during this third phase. While the state wanted to limit family reunification as well, in 1978 the Council of the State blocked the right of the state to control this process and thus this decision “enabled a constant number of North African family members to enter the country each year” (Schain, 2008, p. 67). Some argue that the new demographics that came from this wave brought “issues linked to ways of life, values, and to religious practices from the private to the public sphere” (Stambouli & Soltane, 2011, p. 148). That is, the community transformed from a generally separated, primarily single male populated community to one consisting of families that now interacted more readily with French public life. In reaction to this, the subsequent French governments tried repeatedly to not only reduce immigration but “encourage” immigrants to return to their home countries. For example, the French government attempted to repatriate 500,000 North Africans in the late 1970s (Selby, 2014, p. 25). These efforts were largely unsuccessful and have thus left France as “one of the most multi-ethnic societies on the continent” (Fetzer & Soper, 2005, p. 65). Moreover, due to this new ethnically diverse setting in France, questions of ethnic, religious, and national identities, and conflicts between them, came to the fore. It was during this phase, specifically in the 1980s, where questions around the compatibility of Islam with Republican values and ideals and, specifically, laïcité became the focus of conversations around integration (Frégosi, 2011; Wihtol de Wenden et al., 2013).

These conversations around the compatibility of Islam with Republican values and ideals has only increased with recent Muslim migration to France. This became especially clear with the 2006 change in French immigration law, under Sarkozy as Minister of the Interior, from an “immigration subie (unwanted)” to an “immigration choisie (chosen)” (Joppke, 2007; Kaya, 2009; Schain, 2008; Wihtol de Wenden et al., 2013). This change brought about an immigration model that is similar to the one operative in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany and was principally a push against family reunification migration and for high-tech, and generally high status, migrants (Schain, 2008), most likely in response to the 2005 riots in the Banlieues.

The “Problem” of the Banlieues—Is Religion or Socioeconomics the Problem?

Many Muslims in Europe live in almost exclusively Muslim neighborhoods, and a disproportionately large number are poor, unemployed, or in prison. European societal tensions were highlighted by the widescale riots that erupted in France in 2005 and again in 2007; although a large number of the rioters appear to have been of Muslim descent, most observers agree that a lack of economic opportunity and upward social mobility were key factors behind the unrest, rather than religion (Archick et al., 2012, p. 10).

The migration history outlined in the last section is essential to understanding the other themes/debates that arise about Muslim integration in France. The “problem” of the banlieues (suburbs) to Muslim integration is directly tied to much of this history. This section explores arguments that communautarisme in the Muslim community, as often represented by the fact that “many Muslims live in almost exclusively Muslim neighbourhoods” (Archick et al., 2012), is not a matter of choice but rather a matter of government housing policy (Fredette, 2014, p. 154). Furthermore, the discussion around the banlieues gives insight into how Muslim integration in France is often more about economic and social factors than religion.

First, popular discourse in France suggests that communautarisme is a threat to French national identity, that it is a “fragmentation of the Republic’s social fabric” (Mazawi, 2010, p. 177), and, most importantly, that it is the “fault” of Muslims retreating into their own, separate communities (Cesari, 2013; Selby, 2014). Scholarship challenges this idea and posits that the communautarisme present in the banlieues of France is instead the result of (failed) government immigration, integration, and housing policies surrounding the waves of migration described earlier. Briefly, when the migrant workers came in the first two waves of migration, they were housed in shanty towns on the outskirts of France’s major cities, a choice that made sense considering that is where much of France’s industry was geographically located (Selby, 2014). Furthermore, because the French government anticipated that these workers would return home, there was no real need to emphasize integration of the young Muslim men into broader French society—that is not what they were there for, after all. As the immigration of workers continued into the 1960s, the French government realized the need to improve conditions in the banlieues and replaced the “shantytowns” with social housing projects known as habitations à loyer modère, which are the high-rise apartment buildings that are the homes of many Muslims in the banlieues today (Selby, 2014, p. 24). But again, because the expectation was that these young men would return to their countries of origin, there was no real need for physical, structural, or social integration.

With the third wave of migration, the Muslim community on the ground level in France changed drastically, and yet the infrastructure was not in place to accommodate this change, thus creating the overcrowded banlieues that are common place in France today. Add to these migration waves into the banlieues the so-called Franco-Flight of the 1970s, where French non-Muslims and non-immigrants left suburban areas, and the banlieues became increasingly populated by Muslim and immigrant residents (Selby, 2014, pp. 24–25). While there is some self-selection in the communautarisme that is present in the banlieues, the segregation of the Muslim community into “Muslim neighborhoods,” which is so often used as evidence of a lack of integration by Muslims in France, could be a result of government policy rather than Muslims “not wanting to integrate.”

Because of the housing structure in the banlieues, the overcrowding, and the resultant lack of employment opportunities, Muslims living in the banlieues face vast socioeconomic issues and marginalization. Archick et al. (2012) argue that the banlieues are marked by poverty, high levels of unemployment, and low levels of educational attainment. In fact, the “significant socio-economic disparities between ‘native’ French and those of North African and/or Muslim descent have led many to question the effectiveness of traditional French models of assimilation rooted in the republican ideal of equality” (Archick et al., 2012, p. 16). The statistics show that Muslims in France are more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the French population (Adida et al., 2016; Archick et al., 2012; El Karoui, 2016; Hargreaves, 2007; Santelli, 2007, 2012; Selby, 2014). The third of the European Union’s common basic principles of immigrant integration relates to employment as a key part of the integration process (Council of the European Union, 2004). Employment and, often related, socioeconomic status tends to play an important role in the understanding of one’s level of political and civic integration. Again, while an assumption is often made that Muslims living in the banlieues do not want to work and contribute financially to French society (through paying taxes, for example), and that they do not want to integrate, studies have shown how structural inequalities restrict Muslims from working in France. For example, Selby (2014) and Adida et al. (2016) describe various studies that reveal that one’s name (as a Muslim name) and one’s postal code (an address in the banlieues) are real factors that lead to discrimination against a candidate’s application (see also Frégosi & Kosulu, 2013, p. 199). Generally, all other things equal, living in the suburbs affects one’s employability (Santelli, 2007; Selby, 2014). This employment discrimination also reinforces communautarisme and results in a potential increase in violence: “hiring discrimination against Muslims leads to the constitution of Muslim ghettoes on the peripheries of Western cities in which skyrocketing unemployment rates feed crime and violence and further undermine social cohesion” (Adida et al., 2016, p. 10).

It is in response to this kind of socioeconomic disparity and context that one must situate the 2005 (and 2007) riots that occurred in the banlieues.10 While religion, specifically Islam, is often cited as the root cause for the tension that led to these riots, many scholars argue that while a “large number of the rioters appear to have been of Muslim descent, most observers agree that a lack of economic opportunity and upward social mobility were key factors behind the unrest, rather than religion” (Archick et al., 2012, p. 10; also Cesari, 2013; Fredette, 2014; Selby, 2013, 2014). As Kaya (2009) states, when examining the 2005 riots, it is “not so much cultural difference and Islamism that is taking young Muslims to the street, but it is rather the mass-reaction to two centuries of colonialism and racism, compounded by recent poverty and exclusion” (p. 81). And yet, the association between Islam, violence, the banlieues, and a lack of integration persists. Selby (2013, 2014) discusses the influence of Islamophobic rhetoric by government officials in response to the 2005 riots as feeding into this association. She argues that rather than acknowledging the socioeconomic disenfranchisement and factors of discrimination that Muslims in the banlieues were facing, and responding to in the riots, some French politicians cited “polygamy among the majority-Muslim population of African origin . . . as the root cause of the tensions” (Selby, 2014, p. 46; see also Selby, 2012, 2013). In fact, according to Selby (2014), politicians (including then-President Jacques Chirac) and public intellectuals argued that the problem was one of a lack of parental control within “disintegrating,” polygamous, Muslim families (pp. 46–47). Part of this equation is the fact that parallel to the riots and the association of joblessness and deviance to the banlieues and its inhabitants was the rise of the development of fundamentalist Islam (Fredette, 2014). In fact, Geisser et al. (2017) suggest that there is a creation of “une hégémonie djihadiste dans les banlieues françaises” (a Jihadist hegemony in the French suburbs) (p. 15). This only increased the stigma associated with the banlieues and the stigma of Muslims as “unintegratable.”

The elite discourse that arises out of these socioeconomic inequalities, and the sometimes violent protest that comes from it, often revolves around the “failed integration of French Muslims living in the banlieues, especially young Muslim men, who are viewed as intolerant, ‘macho,’ and violent” (Fredette, 2014, p. 127). Fredette goes on to argue that this “toxic masculinity” and lack of integration is a “problem often attributed to Islam and ‘cultures of origin’” (p. 130). Yet, while this is the discourse of elite, non-Muslim French, when Muslims who live in the banlieues speak about it, the discourse is about so much more than toxic masculinity and extreme forms of Islam—it is about unemployment, social marginalization, isolation, inadequate housing, and unfair policing (Fredette, 2014, p. 127). So the picture of “disintegrating” or “unintegratable” Muslims is not reflective of the actual feelings of Muslims in France. In fact, Schain (2008) discusses the results of a Pew Research Center survey that revealed that,

within Europe, immigrants in France of Islamic origin have the strongest national identity and are the most inclined toward integration. Indeed, the sense of alienation that was manifest in the riots in the fall of 2005 was less a rejection of French society than a demand for greater and more effective integration. (p. 88)

This demand was not met by the government and, instead, “the incident was a turning point in the hardening of immigration laws” (Cesari, 2013, p. 92).

Taking all of this into consideration, scholars of Muslim integration in France argue that in reality, “the core cause of European integration problems may in fact be socioeconomic in nature rather than religious. Poverty and exclusion above all fuel the politicization of cultural differences—and should be the core of integration policy solutions” (Joppke, 2012, p. 1; see also Kaya, 2009; Wihtol de Wenden et al., 2013; Xanthaki, 2016). Despite the hardening of immigration laws in response to the 2005 riots, the French government seemingly took this into consideration and in 2008 introduced a “‘New Policy for the Suburbs’ (Une Nouvelle Politique Pour Les Banlieues), which identified initiatives aimed at increasing employment, education, and housing opportunities in the banlieues” (Archick et al., 2012, p. 18). Although this is the case, Archick et al. argue that basically no progress has come from it. Muslim living in the banlieues are still struggling for employment, education, and housing, which continues to feed into the image of the “unintegratable” Muslim in France.

Generational Questions—Who Needs to “Integrate”?

Much of the discussion around Muslims in the banlieues focusses on the second and third generation of Muslims present therein. If integration is just for immigrants, then why do second- and third-generation Muslims need to “prove” their integration into French society (Awad, 2013)? Where does the status of “immigrant” stop? with what generation? (Fredette, 2014).

Studies on second- and third-generation Muslims in France show how native-born French Muslims are asked the question “what are your origins?” even though their “origins” are technically in France (Beaman, 2012). Beaman goes on to suggest that integration is only relevant for first-generation immigrants, not second-generation individuals. As one of her respondents said: “we were born here so this is the only society we have ever known” (Beaman, 2012, p. 51; see also Fernando, 2014; Laurence & Vaisse, 2006). Fredette (2014) similarly argues that many second-generation Muslims in France are frustrated by the question of integration in their lives and experiences, realizing that this would not be a question asked of their “French” peers: “why do you ask me this question? Do you ask this question of a friend of mine I grew up with, played with all the time, who is named Francoise?” (p. 48). Kaya (2009) argues that while second- and third-generation Muslims are born and raised in France, the term immigré is still applied to them by non-Muslim French. The “term ‘immigré’ is being used to underline the permanent character of African immigrants, who are popularly believed to be threatening national, cultural and social unity with unwelcome cultural, religious, social and linguistic differences” (Kaya, 2009, p. 67). Therefore, when second- and third-generation Muslims are being asked about their integration, it becomes clear that civic integration is not what is in question but rather cultural integration. Cultural integration, according to Laurence and Vaisse (2006), means “check your identity at the door” (p. 30).

This becomes especially clear when discussing the group of second-generation North Africans (often Muslims) labeled as beurgoisie. According to Beaman (2012) and Selby (2014), the beurgoisie (a play on “bourgeoisie” and Beur, slang for “Arab”) are a group of second-generation North Africans who, in contrast to their first-generation parents, are upwardly mobile and are generally “successful in terms of educational attainment and professional status” (Beaman, 2012, p. 48). Selby argues that the beurgoisie are more integrated into French society than their parents were in structural and political realms. Beaman, though, argues that despite this structural integration, the beurgoisie are still denied full integration in French society. She states that even if outwardly they are assimilated—language, schooling, citizenship, middle-class status—their continued marginalization shows that, for them, “only partial assimilation is possible” (Beaman, 2012, p. 48). By this example, it becomes clear that “full integration” requires not only socioeconomic, civic, and political integration but also cultural and symbolic integration. Furthermore, when examining the example of the beurgoisie, we can see how a belonging, believing, and behaving framework of religiosity is at work.11 That is, regardless of the beliefs or practices of Muslims in France, their very belonging to the community is what is seen as threatening to, and a restriction on, their integration.

This kind of questioning, even of born and raised citizens of the Republic, therefore lead to some surprising, and some not surprising, results. Worbs (2006) explains that “the self-identification as French is not as widespread among migrant youngsters as should be expected judging by the strong assimilation efforts of the republican state” (p. 54). Being asked repeatedly where one is from, when one was in fact born in France, begins to send the impression to French-born Muslims that they cannot claim French identity. Fernando (2014) suggests that “if they were accepted as French, as full citizens, they would not have to keep asserting their citizenship. The more they assert their Frenchness, the more they reveal the precariousness of their belonging” (p. 65). Second- and third-generation youth then “have an acute experience of confrontation between the culture/traditions of their ‘homeland’ (transmitted by parents through memories) and the culture and values of their native society (France)” (Stambouli & Soltane, 2011, p. 147). The result of this kind of confrontational experience, this “uprooting,” is that some may compensate for it by rebuilding their identity around Islam—telling people they cannot be French and Muslim might make them “more Muslim” (Stambouli & Soltane, 2011, p. 155).

Terrorism/Radicalization/Securitization and Failed Integration

Twenty to thirty years ago the increased gendered immigration of Muslim women and therefore the visible signs of Islam led to debates on integration (Selby, 2014); however, in the first decades of the 21st century, terrorism and radicalization led to a new interest in integration (Archick et al., 2012). In fact,

terrorist attacks on European soil—2004 and 2005 attacks in Madrid and London that were carried out by Muslim citizens or residents—raise the question of whether European countries have done enough to integrate their Muslim communities and prevent feelings of social exclusion and marginalization.

(Archick et al., 2012, p. 2)

In France, multiple terrorist attacks on French soil—the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office in January 2015; the November 2015 attacks, including the massacre at the Bataclan theatre; and the 2016 Bastille Day attacks in Nice—have heightened the fear of Islamic extremism in France and have consequently increased the debate around whether integration has worked in France (Geisser et al., 2017). Many argue that it has not and that failed integration policies and practices are a contributing factor to radicalization (Archick et al., 2012). Stambouli and Soltane (2011) agree, mostly for second-generation Muslims for whom “Islam is the major recourse for this seemingly hopeless community as they construct their new identity that is ‘neither from here, nor from there’” (p. 153). The Islamic revival in France is potentially fueled by this form of internal exclusion, this feeling of being “nowhere at home” (Fernando, 2014, p. 14). Fredette (2014) suggests that it might not be failed integration policies that impact radicalization but instead that failed integration, on the part of the individual, becomes the reason for extremism and anti-French events within elite discourse (p. 136).

Regardless, many argue that if “failed integration” is a cause for radicalization, then perhaps “successful integration” can be a means of combatting terrorism, whether political, civic, social, or symbolic (Baran & Tuohy, 2011). Scholars discuss the many efforts that government agencies and politicians have taken to improve Muslim integration, such as new citizenship laws, promoting dialogue, homegrown imams, improving educational and economic opportunities for Muslims, and tackling racism and discrimination, among other suggestions (Archick et al., 2012; Geisser et al., 2017). For example, Jean François Copé around the time of the Stasi Commission (2002) argued for a revision of the 1905 law on the separation of church and state to justify funding the construction of mosques (Freedman, 2004, p. 18).12 Similarly, Sarkozy, while Minister of the Interior, argued for more inclusive integration through public and institutional recognition of Islam (Freedman, 2004).

The resultant creation of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (Conseil français du culte musulman [CFCM]) in 2003 “is considered one of the most significant efforts to improve ties between French Muslims and the state” (Archick et al., 2012, p. 17). Kastoryano (2018) suggests that the creation of the CFCM was an effort by the state to territorialize Islam by creating an “Islam de France” and not just an “Islam en France.” While the CFCM was held up as, and continues to be used as, evidence of the two-sided nature of French integration policy by government officials, many scholars have argued that the creation of the CFCM cannot be a magic key to Muslim integration in the country. Selby (2014) shows how the creation of the CFCM is a complicated story and how it does not represent the diversity of Muslims in France. Similarly, Fredette (2014) discusses how this one institution cannot possibly represent all of France’s Muslims: it is an “impossible thing” to ask of the institution, and it is impossible to assume that this could offer a solution for the myriad of experiences, identities, and integration processes of all the Muslims in France. The Insitut Montaigne (El Karoui, 2016) also found that most Muslims in France either do not know about the CFCM or do not feel represented by it. Like many other policies that impact on Muslim integration in France, the creation of the CFCM is another example of legislation that excludes, rather than includes, many French Muslims (Freedman, 2004). More recently, in 2016, the Institut Montaigne entered the discussion of government-led support for Muslim integration in France. In the report, written by El Karoui, the Institut Montaigne makes eight propositions for “constructing a French Islam” including financing the institutional needs of the religion: building of mosques, salaries for imams, and theological training programs.

Even though these efforts have been made in the past, El Karoui (2016) argues that because of the radicalization and terrorism that has occurred, the first, and continuing, response by the French government has been securitization. In fact, Geisser et al. (2017) suggest that with the “terrorist crisis in France,” the “degree of religiosity is often considered an indication of the potential terrorist risk” of an individual; that is, the more religious someone is, the more it is assumed that he or she might be a terrorist (p. 266). The need to “integrate,” that is, to keep one’s religiosity in the private realm as per French laïcité, becomes consequently important for many French Muslims if they wish to keep the label of “terrorist” at bay. Ultimately, Geisser et al. (2017) go on to argue that, through this securitization lens, non-Muslim French people see the laïcisation of French Muslims as essential for more than just making sure that they conform to the principles and values of the Republican model,

mais aussi pour garantir la sécurité des français. Depuis les attentats de 2015, le paradigme identitaire (laïciser les musulmans de France) se trouve surdéterminé par le paradigme sécuritaire (sécuriser l’Hexagone) [but also to guarantee the security of French people. Since the attacks of 2015, the identity paradigm (secularize the Muslims of France) is overdetermined by the security paradigm (secure France)].

(Geisser et al., 2017, p. 297)13

Archick et al. (2012) argue that, in response to the perceived radicalization of Muslims and in an effort toward integration, some European governments have responded by (a) enhancing law enforcement and security measures and (b) reforming immigration and asylum policies (p. 14).

The question that arises is: How does this securitization focus help integration? Some argue, especially Geisser et al. (2017), that the securitization lens is an important one through which to examine the integration of Muslims in France. In fact, they suggest that by denouncing terrorist attacks and supporting the securitization efforts in France, Muslims can present an integrated identity. They argue that, although a paradox in laïque France, it is these very terrorist attacks, and the increased securitization that comes out of them, that allows for the insertion of Islam into the public sphere, where French Muslims speak publicly as citizens and as people of faith. Other scholars argue though that the overemphasis on securitization leads to the fact that the “real issues of integration of Islamic practices within democratic spaces are not really addressed” (Cesari, 2013, p. 124).

French Muslim Integration on Three Fronts

While the question of Muslim integration in France is discussed in many realms, this section explores three areas where religion and integration interact: two commonly discussed areas of research and one new one. First, as principle agent of the state in the delivery of national identity, the French public school is a major site of contestation and conversation regarding Muslim integration. Second, religious dress has been a primary focus of the conversation around Muslim integration in France. As a visible representation of identity, religious dress and, specifically, veiling has become one sign/symbol of integration, or lack thereof, in the French context. Finally, new research is revealing how Muslim food practices, or the lack thereof, may play a role in determining who is a “good citizen” and may act as a barometer for Muslim integration.

Creating the “Good” Français—Schooling

As “the temple of the Republic” (Bowen, 2010, p. 23), France’s public school system plays an important role in establishing and inculcating Republican universalism, egalitarianism, and secularism; “through a uniform, secular education children are brought up to be equal citizens” (Freedman, 2004, p. 10; Fredette, 2014). The Republican school is meant to function as a “melting pot” (Mazawi, 2010, p. 179) where the inculcation of common language and culture, two essential elements to social and civic integration, occur (Selby, 2014). Much of this rhetoric comes from the fact that

part of France’s jus soli tradition is the belief that one is not born French; one becomes French. That process of becoming French is carried out in public schools. It is there that students learn what it means to be French and how to be a good French citizen.

(Fredette, 2014, p. 78)

It is therefore one of the key sites for the “assimilation of immigrants to France” (Archick et al., 2012, p. 15).

Since immigrant is often equated with Muslim, the state-run school becomes an essential site for assimilating and integrating Muslims in France. Mazawi (2010) argues that the schooling of Muslim youth is viewed as the key, the thing on which issues of integration, social diversity, and multiculturalism rest, and is a key part of the attempts to localize or “indigenize” transnational “imagined communities” (p. 187). For many French Muslims, “education should be the ‘great equalizer’ for all French citizens” as well (Fredette, 2014, p. 84), so why are their religious practices seen as a threat to the “temple of the Republic”?

The public school system is where laïcité is expected to reign supreme. Since 1882, French schools operate under les lois laïques—which decreed French schools as secular (Freedman, 2004, p. 10). Recalling that, at base, laïcité did not necessarily mean removing all religion from France, public schools are also major sites for religious accommodation. Fredette (2014) shows that there have been inconsistencies in the implementation of laïcité in French public schools, as the religious accommodation that occurs tends to favors Christianity and no other traditions, such as Islam (also Scott, 2007). For example, Fredette explains that there is “state-paid religious instruction in Alsace-Moselle, fish (a Lenten accommodation) in cafeterias on Friday, and state holidays that align with the Christian calendar” and then questions, “if so many accommodations are made for Christians, why should there be so few for those of other religions, such as Islam?” (p. 93). For example, why are accommodations such as including halal food and respect for fasting during Ramadan or public funding for Islamic schools such contested accommodations in the French public sphere (Fetzer & Soper, 2005, pp. 78–87)?

Despite there being publicly funded religious instruction in parts of France (Alsace-Moselle), there are no publicly funded Islamic schools/instruction in France. Since religious accommodation is not being made for Muslims in the secular, laïque, schools of France, some Muslims are choosing to educate their children in private Islamic schools.14 This lack of accommodation of difference, à la Republican assimilationist model, can possibly lead to “less integration” for some Muslims in France. They are not attending the “temple of the Republic” where students “learn what it means to be French” and therefore do not have the same access to the cultural and symbolic elements of French citizenship on which many models of French integration rest. Cesari (2013) explains that “as of 2012, there were 29 Islamic private schools in France, most of which emerged as a consequence of the 2004 law prohibiting religious signs in public schools” (p. 100). The lack of accommodation of religious practice, specifically veiling, which is argued to help “equalize all,” can lead to more difference and more separation, not less.

The Visible Other—Veiling

This article has provided many examples of how the idea of “difference,” whether religious, ethnic, or cultural, is viewed as threatening to Republican egalitarianism. In the French assimilationist model of integration, all difference is meant to melt away in the public sphere, such that, when one looks at another, or talks to him or her, all one sees or hears is the other’s “Frenchness,” and nothing else. The practice of veiling, whether with a hijab, niqab, or burka, by “a few young women” acts as a visible sign of religious or cultural identity and therefore as an inherent visible sign of difference (Fernando, 2014, pp. 4–5). One of the “problems” of the veil posited by French attitudes is that it “insisted on differences among citizens in a nation one and indivisible” (Scott, 2007, p. 2). Therefore, much of the debate and scholarship about Islam in France and Muslim integration in France in the 21st century has focused on the topic of the veil/headscarf (hijab). Selby (2014) argues that the change in immigrant population, from male workers to female family reunification, shifted the public discourse about Islam from male workers (and unrest in the suburbs) to a greater hijab focus (p. 30). In fact, this gendered immigration policy shifted the politics, public perception, and examination of Islam in France, and therefore also impacted the integration of Muslims therein.

While there is nothing in laïcité that prohibits wearing a hijab (Amir-Moazami, 2010; Lepinard, 2014), people mobilize a definition of laïcité that stresses cultural unity and rejects “the principle of accommodation, based on the French republican model of integration” (Lepinard, 2014, p. 619). Lepinard goes on to suggest that the “veil represents a rejection of ‘living together’” (p. 620). It starts to “symbolize a threat to the equation of democracy, nationhood and secular public sphere” (Selby, 2012, p. 2). This is the context and mindset in which one must understand the affaires des foulards (headscarf affairs) that culminated in the 2004 ban on religious symbols in public schools.

The affaires des foulards/affaire du foulard refers to multiple events, starting in the 1980s (Ahmed, 2018). According to Selby (2014), the central focus on Islam/Muslims in the public sphere started here, specifically with the 1989 affaire du foulard.15 This was the first time that such a case was disseminated on a large scale in French news media, and it quickly became the focus of much public debate in France. The argument that often followed was that the “political and social integration of Muslims into the French state would be linked to a reciprocal demand for their conformity with certain standards of citizenship,” and the question that followed was, “how can you integrate if you are going to exclude?” (Freedman, 2004, pp. 12–13).

The case was taken to the French Supreme Court, and the decision was made that religious symbols were permissible in schools as long as they were not “conspicuous” or “militant” (Selby, 2014, p. 31). This ruling gave individual schools and administrators the power to make the decision as to what constituted a “conspicuous” symbol, ultimately leaving the situation open to a great deal of subjective interpretation. Five years later, in 1994, the issue reemerged as more and more school administrators struggled with what exactly could be included and sought clearer, nationally implemented guidelines. The government responded with the Bayrou Decree, which “sought to distinguish between ‘discrete’ (preferred) and ‘ostentatious’ (i.e. proselytizing and discriminating) religious signs” (Selby, 2014, p. 32). This still made the determination highly subjective and ultimately led to the 2004 ban on headscarves in public schools.

This 2004 affaire du foulard, directly tied into the discussion about French public schools, is the most commonly referenced headscarf affair (Ahmed, 2018; Amir-Moazami, 2010; Archick et al., 2012; Bowen, 2010; Cesari, 2013; Fernando, 2014; Freedman, 2004; Kaya, 2009; Keaton, 2006; Laurence & Vaisse, 2006; Selby, 2012, 2014; Scott, 2007). Coming out of the Stasi Commission, a commission on the application of laïcité in France, all conspicuous signs of religiosity were banned in France’s public schools as a means of protecting French values of universalism, egalitarianism, and laïcité. Since these are the values to which immigrants are expected to integrate, the idea was that removing these symbols would lead to more integration (Freedman, 2004). Ultimately, the argument went that by wearing hijabs in France’s Republican school system, young Muslim girls publicly claimed an identity as Muslim, an identity that “threatened” French values on multiple fronts. Bowen explains that there were two principle objections to the headscarves in schools: “first, that the scarves introduced political divisions in the classroom, and second, that they stood for religious claims that women are inferior to men” (p. 93).

This second objection highlights another layer added to the discussion of why veiling becomes a symbol for a lack of integration in the French context, namely, that it becomes a symbol of lack of respect for “French cultural values.” By this argument, by wearing the veil, one is rejecting values, such as equality of the sexes, and women’s freedom, that are foundational to the broader European values to which one is expected to integrate. According to the European Union’s second principle of integration discussed earlier, these values include “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Council of the European Union, 2004). This is where the 2010–2011 ban on the full-face veil in public spaces became a major focus of the conversation (Archick et al., 2012; Cesari, 2013; Selby, 2014). For example, Selby (2014) discussed the 2010 Gerin Report and explains that

after considering factors related to the equality of the sexes, women’s freedom and dignity, a rise in dangerous Islamism, and security and neighborliness, it concluded that face-covering veils are impediments to women’s sexual equality and reflected signs of growing Islamism that must be curtailed. In response to these concerns, the French were the first to legally restrict these face-covering garments in Europe, on April 11, 2011. (p. 33)

The basic idea was that the full-face veil, for many reasons, prevented the wearer from integrating into French society. Some scholars go as far as to suggest that because of the idea that the veil conflicts with ideas of female equality and sexuality, the visibility of feminine sexuality can be used as evidence of integration into the French society while public piety, as represented by modest dress, is offensively rejected (Amir-Moazami, 2010). Taking the hijab off then is a sign of integration (Fredette, 2014).

Whether it is viewed as a conflict with laïcité and ultimately Republican egalitarianism or a conflict with European and French values of female sexuality and gender equality, veiling is a constant aspect of the debate around Muslim integration in France. From the affaire du foulard starting in 1989, the ban of religious symbols in schools in 2004, the 2009 burkini debate, the ban of the niqab in 2010, to the 2013 HCI, a committee that has advised the government on the effectiveness of integrative processes in France since 1989, suggesting that the hijab should be banned from higher education as well (Fredette, 2014), the veil is consistently used as a means to discuss symbolic integration. This only increases in a highly securitized context where the veil may be seen as a symbol of deep religious commitment, which is then equated with higher terrorist risk, according to Geisser et al. (2017). Ultimately, the veil acts as a sign of cultural difference, and many argue that this needs to be downplayed in the post-1980s integration debate. But this conflicts with the equality of rights guaranteed to French Muslims under the very same principles of liberté, égalité, and fraternité. Along this vein,

some Muslim advocates argue that France is not granting its Muslim population a true equality of rights when the government demands that elements of Muslim traditional life and culture be abandoned in order for Muslims to enjoy full participation in French life.

(Archick et al., 2012, p. 16; see also Xanthaki, 2016)

Embodied Integration—Food as Symbol of Integration

Another area of Muslim traditional life and culture that sometimes needs to be abandoned for Muslims to integrate is food practices. While various Muslim food practices, such as not eating pork, fasting during Ramadan, not drinking alcohol, and consuming “halal meat” (meat that has been slaughtered according to Islamic principles), have been mentioned in passing in multiple studies of French Muslims,16 the focus on food as a lens into Muslim integration in France is a relatively new area of research (Brown, 2015, 2016).

To illustrate why food matters in this discussion, and how it might function within the integration debate, one must consider chocolate croissants. Jean Francois Copé, while campaigning for the presidency of the UMP in 2012, made the statement:

Il est des quartiers où je peux comprendre l'exaspération de certains de nos compatriotes, pères ou mères de famille rentrant du travail le soir et apprenant que leur fils s'est fait arracher son pain au chocolat à la sortie du collège par des voyous qui lui expliquent qu'on ne mange pas pendant le Ramadan. [There are neighbourhoods where I can understand the exasperation of some of our compatriots, fathers and mothers coming home from work in the evening to learn their son has had his pain au chocolat snatched out of his hand by thugs, explaining to him that we do not eat during Ramadan]. (“UMP: Copé, les pains au chocolat et le Ramadan,” 2012)

Perhaps it was the fact that there are inconsistencies in this anecdote that present it as fictive, or, more likely, the ridiculousness of such a statement that caught everyone’s attention, but one may argue that the reasoning goes deeper than that, that it hits a deeper chord for many who heard or read Copé’s words on and after October 5, 2012.

It is no secret that food is a part of the French identity. It was French philosopher Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who said “tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are.” For all cultures, one’s food habits, the things that one eats or does not eat, and the way in which one eats those foods marks that person as part of a particular community (Anderson, 2005; Brown, 2015, 2016; Freidenreich, 2011). There are a few symbolic foods that tend to mark out French culture that, when one thinks of them, one thinks of France, and French pastries are just one. Copé was specific in his statement. It was not just any snack that was snatched from this boy’s hands: it was a pain au chocolat. This begs the question: would there have been such a response if Copé had merely said “snack” or better yet “baklava?” By using a pain au chocolat, Copé clearly marks the identity of the boy as French and the young “thugs” are trying to take away just one more thing that is French (fitting within Copé’s anti-White racism stance).17 More than pastries, scholars argue that for many French people to “be French” they must eat pork and drink alcohol (Beaman, 2012; Brown, 2016). Therefore Muslims would be “considered non-French if they deny themselves the foods and drinks many French see as essential for their national culture” (Adida et al., 2016, p. 85). For members of the Muslim community, it may be hard to feel fully able to integrate into a society where the majority culture revolves around food practices that are forbidden in one’s own culture/religion. This may keep people on the margins, feeling unable to integrate, or being told they cannot do so.

While religion, specifically Islam, is most often viewed as a hindrance to integration, some scholars have suggested that these various food practices, or the abandonment of them, can help with the Muslim immigrant’s integration into French society. For example, the halal industry in France is a highly successful one, contributing to the French economy and to individual French Muslims’ employment and related socioeconomic integration. As Selby (2014) discusses, by 2011 the halal industry in France amassed Euro 7.6 billion in annual sales (p. 40). Furthermore, the more that Muslims leave particular food practices behind, the more they might be viewed as “successfully integrated.” That is, just as the veil serves as a visible symbol of difference, so too could food practices. If one maintains those food practices they may not be viewed as integrated, and if they change them, they may be viewed as “more integrated.” As Brown (2015) explains, if Muslims are continuing religious food practices, “this may be seen as an affront to secular, laïque understandings of how to live one’s life in France. Food as a religious or ethnic identity marker may therefore hinder the integration process” (p. 46). Alternatively, Brown goes on to suggest that because of the symbolic power of food, if immigrants leave religiously and culturally distinct food practices behind and take up the cultural food practices of the host culture, they may be able to show that they are assimilated into that culture to some degree. With food and drink taking up such a central place in the French national identity, a Muslim migrant’s food practices may be one avenue that they could use to show their integrated identity (Brown, 2015, p. 49). Brown (2016) elsewhere discusses how this pressure to show one’s “integrated” identity led to many Muslims in France adjusting their religious food practices there. Laurence and Vaisse (2006) give a concrete example of this change and show how there was a significant increase in Muslims who do not fast during Ramadan from 1989 to 2004 (p. 79). While popular opinion in France sets up Muslims as unintegratable, and as not willing to change, these examples show how Muslims, on the ground level, are making changes to some religious practices to help in their integration or at least to help in their symbolic integration to French cultural practices.

Furthermore, food has become the new battleground on which debates around who is an acceptable citizen are being fought, debates that are highly influenced by and dependent on integration policy and rhetoric. For example, there are multiple stories of forced pork consumption in French public schools (Selby, 2012, calls this the affaire du porc). As the “temple of the Republic” and the place where young French citizens learn what it means to “be French” and to be an “acceptable citizen,” the forcing of food practices that are in conflict with religious rules within French schools is a direct affront to Muslims in the country; it sends a message that “if you don’t eat pork, you are not French.” New research is showing that while, like in the discussion of restricting visible signs of religious identity in the public sphere, the French Republican assimilationist model assumes that these restrictions will lead to more integration, often it leads to less (Brown, 2016).


While the topic of Muslim integration in France continues to occupy a great deal of space in both popular and scholarly conversations, there is no real consensus on what exactly Muslim integration is, or on whether the French model of integration has been “successful” in its aims. The conclusion that many purport is that Muslims are not integrated into French society and that it would be almost impossible for them to be integrated, thanks to strict understandings of laïcité. Much of this discourse relies upon a vision of Muslims as a uniform, unbending, immovable entity made up of practitioners who cannot leave their religion behind and therefore cannot operate in the public sphere without the presence of their religious beliefs and practices. Many studies reveal that this is in fact a false picture of the many Muslims living in France. In reality, a 2011 Institut national d’etudes demographiques (2016) study revealed that only 33% of French Muslims were both believing and practicing, while 43% were believing but not practicing. El Karoui (2016) writes that three main groups emerge from the data in the Institut Montaigne’s study of French Islam: the “silent majority” (46%), the “conservatives” (25%), and the “authoritarian” (26%), of which the “authoritarian” are the only group that rejects laïcité. Therefore most “could” fit within Republican notions of laïcité, that is, keeping one’s religion to the private sphere and/or as a matter of belief, not practice. As Selby (2014) argues, while books, commissions, and laws addressing headscarves might give the impression that there are many practicing Muslims in France, the data suggests otherwise.

Therefore, instead of the picture that arises from this monolithic presentation, we see that there is a great amount of diversity present in the French Muslim community. This very diversity may be a reason why French Muslims have a hard time challenging the image of Muslims as “not integrated/failed citizens.” French Muslims

do not agree on politics, policy solutions, the definition of the challenges they face, or even how Islam is practiced or relates to their French identity. While all social movements must overcome a host of differences and disagreements to develop a shared narrative that challenges the status quo (and even then, some degree of intra-movement conflict persists), Muslims in France are particularly unlikely to bridge these gaps.

(Fredette, 2014, p. 165)

Although much of the popular rhetoric sets up Islam, and Muslims, as the cause of failed integration, recent research uses the idea of “failed Muslim integration” to critique broader French policies and structures. By trying to fit Muslims into French models of universalism and laïcité, we see that

the universal model of French citizenship was not designed with Muslims in mind, and their presence worrisomely draws attention to the limits of that universality. Importantly, the most common political response has been to criticize Muslims for failing to integrate, not to question how capacious French universality is.

(Fredette, 2014, p. 171)

Scholars such as Fredette (2014) and Fernando (2014), therefore, suggest that what is interesting about the current conversations around Muslim integration is not necessarily what these discussions reveal about Muslims but about France: “Muslim French religiosity and political praxis articulated in the shadows of the secular republic reveal a great deal about French secularism and French republicanism” (Fernando, 2014, p. 5). The focus on Muslim integration reveals the limits of both the cultural and functional integration of immigrants in the Republic (Freedman, 2004).

Future research that further addresses these failures/limits would be especially welcome. For those who support the assimilationist model of integration in France, a model that leads to religiously neutral public schools, bans on headscarves, and forced pork consumption, this laïque integration supports secularism and equality. Critics of this model suggest it does the opposite—leading to more alienation (Archick et al., 2012; Brown, 2016). More studies that address this paradox would also be beneficial to the broader discussion. Finally, since the integration experiences of French Muslims are as diverse as the people who hold them, more ethnographic research on Muslim integration in the French context would add nuance to the monolithic approach that is often reflected in the “Muslim integration and French society” debate.

Further Reading

Archick, K, Belkin, P., Blanchard, C. M., Ek, C., & Mix, D. E. (2012). Muslims in Europe: Promoting integration and countering extremism. In G. T. Rankin & K. M. Cowen (Eds.), Muslims in Europe: Integration and counter-extremism efforts (pp. 1–67). New York, NY: Nova Science.Find this resource:

Baran, A., & Tuohy, E. (2011). Citizen Islam: The future of Muslin integration in the West. New York, NY; London, U.K.: Continuum.Find this resource:

Casanova, J. (2004). Religion, European secular identities, and European integration. Transit, 27, 1–18.Find this resource:

Cesari, J. (2013). Why the West fears Islam: An exploration of Muslims in liberal democracies. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:

Fernando, M. (2014). The republic unsettled: Muslim French and the contradictions of French secularism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Find this resource:

Fredette, J. (2014). Constructing Muslims in France: Discourse, public identity, and the politics of citizenship. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Find this resource:

Freedman, J. (2004). Secularism as a barrier to integration? The French dilemma. International Migration, 42(3), 5–27.Find this resource:

Joppke, C. (2007). Beyond national models: Civic integration policies for immigrants in western Europe. West European Politics, 30(1), 1–22.Find this resource:

Laurence, J. & Vaisse, J. (2006). Integrating Islam: Political and religious challenges in contemporary France. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Find this resource:

Lepinard, E. (2014). Migrating concepts: Immigrant integration and the regulation of religious dress in France and Canada. Ethnicities, 14(3), 611–632.Find this resource:

Selby, J. (2014). France. In J. Cesari (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of European Islam (pp. 23–63). Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Stambouli, J., & Soltane, S. B. (2011). Muslim immigrants in France: Religious markets and new mechanisms of integration. In G.T. Bonifacio & V. S. M. Angeles (Eds.), Gender, religion and migration: Pathways of integration (pp. 147–166). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Find this resource:

Wihtol de Wenden, C., Salzbrunn, M., & Weber, S. (2013). Beyond assimilation: Shifting boundaries of belonging in France. In L. Pries (Ed.), Shifting boundaries of belonging and new migration dynamics in Europe and China (pp. 26–54). London, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:


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Archick, K., Belkin, P., Blanchard, C. M., Ek, C., & Mix, D. E. (2012). Muslims in Europe: Promoting integration and countering extremism. In G. T. Rankin & K. M. Cowen (Eds.), Muslims in Europe: Integration and counter-extremism efforts (pp. 1–67). New York, NY: Nova Science.Find this resource:

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(1.) According to Xanthaki (2016), positive understandings of integration are often linked to “social inclusion,” which she defines as “creating a society for all, in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, has an active role to play” (p. 819). This two-way approach encapsulates both political and cultural integration and is argued to be the antidote to segregation.

(2.) Some scholars do suggest that sometimes “the decline or elimination of religious belief and practice altogether” is a part of laïcité (Hurd, 2008, pp. 5, 29).

(3.) Interestingly, Geisser et al. (2017) suggest that instead of seeing Islam at inherent odds with laïcité, there may in fact be the possibility for a creation of an islamo-laïcité. They claim “ il se pourrait bien que la France devienne aussi, en ce début de XXIe siècle, une terre d’expérimentation d’une islamo-laïcité, ou l’expression musulmane ne serait plus simplement perçue comme un facteur de discorde nationale ou de désordre social mais aussi comme une contribution positive à l’intérêt général et au bien commun” (p. 304).

(4.) The unique situation in France is also related to the colonial past and the relationship of the French state to Islam in the former colonies. This also impacts why Muslims are seen as unintegratable while other migrants, usually from European contexts (Italians, Portuguese, Polish, etc.) were seen as integratable, since they came from “similar cultures.” See Wihtol de Wenden et al. (2013) for a further description of the different integration and assimilation experiences of migrants in France dependent on country of origin.

(5.) While some see it as the “new” threat, Islam has long been a threat to French national identity due to the colonial history of France in majority Muslim countries such as those of the Maghreb. While other, non-Muslim immigrant communities also faced discrimination in France, they were often seen as more easily integrated than Muslim immigrants. Kaya (2009) argues that it was thought to be harder to integrate migrants from the “third world” than from Europe, since European immigrants could “dissolve” into society (p. 71).

(6.) Shepard (2006) explains the progression of nationality and citizenship for Algerian subjects over the course of France’s colonization. He shows how there were always two categories of people in Algeria, “Muslims” and “Europeans”—those who could not be French and those who could. Although the Algerian/French Muslims were granted full citizenship in the mid-20th century, they were still known as “Muslim French from Algeria” (p. 39).

(7.) There is a significant Sephardic Jewish community in France, with origins in North Africa as well. The 1996 film La Haine depicts the difficulty of both Sephardic Jewish and Muslim communities living in the suburbs of Paris, revealing that often North African Jewish people in France face many similar discriminations and social inequities as North African Muslims in the Hexagon, though, historically, North African Jewish communities were granted French citizenship more easily and earlier than North African Muslims (Wihtol de Wenden et al., 2013).

(8.) In the Insitut Montaigne’s report “Un Islam Français est Possible” (El Karoui, 2016) emphasizes that they did not select participants based on their immigration status but solely on their religious identification. The way that the report stresses this factor makes it obvious to the reader that the assumption is that all Muslims are immigrants, and, in fact, according to the Institut Montaige’s study more than one in two of their respondents was born in France. Because many refer to even second-generation North Africans as “immigrés” (Kaya, 2009) it is not surprising that El Karoui attempts to complicate the idea of Muslims as inevitably immigrant in his report.

(9.) More recent studies also discuss the diversity of Muslim practice, belief, and identity in France. Specifically, the Insitut Montaigne recently released a report that addresses this diversity in great depth (El Karoui, 2016). Also see, Geisser et al. (2017) and Withol de Wenden et al. (2013).

(10.) Following the electrocution death of two young children of immigrants (and the injury of one other), riots in the banlieues broke out across the country. These riots involved the burning of cars and dumpsters and general unrest. They were highly publicized in the French and international press and were framed as the result of tensions between Islam and France.

(11.) For further reading on these dimensions of religiosity, see Day (2011), Davie (2011), and Saroglou (2011).

(12.) Interestingly, this is the same Jean François Copé who, while campaigning for the presidency of the UMP (France’s center-right political party started by Chirac) in 2012–2010, years after these initial comments were made, said that young “thugs” were ripping chocolate croissants out of the hands of young French children during Ramadan. These remarks became the focus of an event affectionately known as “pastry gate.” This is discussed in the final section of this article.

(13.) Geisser et al. (2017) found that, even with this shift in rhetoric around French Muslims, the general view of Muslims did not change significantly after the attacks in 2015–2016. That is, the attacks did little to change the opinion already present, which was already negative. Immediately following the attacks of January 2015, there was a push toward national unity and fraternité. People saw it as a matter of jihadism and not Islam itself. But this move toward fraternité ended almost as quickly as it started, and the general negative view on Islam in France returned (pp. 256–257).

(14.) In the Institut Montaigne’s study on French Islam, El Karoui (2016) suggests that one way to decrease the fundamentalist discourse, and the separation of Muslim students from non-Muslim students, is to teach Arabic in French public schools.

(15.) In this affaire a school headmaster in Creil, a suburb of Paris, refused to allow three Maghrebine Muslim girls to come to school in hijab (Freedman, 2004, p. 11).

(16.) In their study on Islamophobia in France, Adida et al. (2016) give a brief discussion of food practices as examples of religious norms that are in conflict with “rooted French” attitudes and practices. Here the Ramadan fast and halal food restrictions are often seen as barriers to full integration in the labor market.

(17.) Copé is not the only politician to use food examples as symbols of the threat that Islam poses to French life. Marine Le Pen, on her official website for the Front national in 2015, said that “Under the Islamist pressure, businesses now only offer halal food (Quick). Pork is no longer served in school cafeterias” (Marine le Pen as quoted in Geisser et al., 2017, p. 275).