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The French Disconnection

Francophone Countries and Radicalization

Members of the Muslim community in Belgium take part in a ceremony to commemorate the victims of last month's attacks on the city's Zaventem airport and the Maelbeek metro station, outside the station in Brussels, Belgium, April 9, 2016. Yves Herman / Reuters

In a recent article, William McCants and Christopher Meserole, both from the Brookings Institution, argue that “the best predictor” of foreign fighter radicalization is whether their country of origin is Francophone. Rather than incriminating the French language as such, the authors see a connection between radicalization and what they call “French political culture.” They lay special emphasis on the “strident” and “aggressive” French approach to secularism. Radicalization in Belgium and France, in their view, fit into a pattern that they say holds true with other Francophone countries, in particular the most economically developed.

McCants and Meserole’s indictment of “French political culture” negates the diversity of the Francophone world; think of an “English political culture” that would encompass, say, the United States, the Palau Islands, and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Sentences such as “If anything, it’s a story of what happens when French economic and political development has most

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