Managing the Migrant Crisis
How Europe Pushes Migrants Onto Boats
The Return of No-Man’s Land
Europe's Asylum Crisis and Historical Memory
A Self-Interested Approach to Migration Crises
Push Factors, Pull Factors, and Investing In Refugees
The Elephant in the Room
Islam and the Crisis of Liberal Values in Europe
Jordan's Refugee Experiment
A New Model for Helping the Displaced
France on Fire
The Charlie Hebdo Attack and the Future of al Qaeda
Laïcité Without Égalité
Can France Be Multicultural?
Europe's Dangerous Multiculturalism
Why the Continent Fails Minority Groups
ISIS' Next Target
Terrorism After Brussels
The French Connection
Explaining Sunni Militancy Around the World
The French Disconnection
Francophone Countries and Radicalization
The Myth of Lone-Wolf Terrorism
The Attacks in Europe and Digital Extremism
Keeping Europe Safe
Counterterrorism for the Continent
The Continent's Leader Needs Intelligence Reform
British Counterterrorism Policy After Westminster
London Can Do More to Prevent Radicalization
Europe’s Populist Surge
A Long Time in the Making
Merkel's Last Stand
Letter from Berlin
There Is No Alternative
Why Germany’s Right-Wing Populists Are Losing Steam
The Schulz Effect Faces Its First Test
Will Reviving Germany's Social Democrats Be Enough to Unseat Merkel?
The Future of Dutch Democracy
What the Election Revealed About the Establishment—and Its Challengers
The Right Way to Leave the EU
Pulling the Trigger on Brexit
And Passing the Point of No Return
Theresa May's Gamble
Why Britain's Snap Election Will Do Little to Ease Brexit
France’s Next Revolution?
A Conversation With Marine Le Pen
Europe in Russia's Digital Cross Hairs
What’s Next for France and Germany—and How to Deal With It
Why French Voters Rejected Le Pen
Austria's Populist Puzzle
Why One of Europe's Most Stable States Hosts a Thriving Radical Right
Europe's Hungary Problem
Viktor Orban Flouts the Union
Europe's Autocracy Problem
Polish Democracy's Final Days?
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 deeply taken root” also carry unsavory undertones. For comparison, replace “French” with “Arab,” “Latino,” or any other group.
If anything, the McCants-Meserole thesis illustrates the pitfalls of data-based analysis in the study of terrorism. Although the two scholars initially aimed at ‘’explaining the Sunni militancy around the world,” they ended up focusing on a couple of European countries that together make up slightly more than one percent of the world’s population. The authors then narrow their focus from Francophone countries in general to wealthy Francophone countries in particular and, finally, to wealthy Francophone countries with an “aggressive” approach to secularism. Out of 29 states that have French as an official language, the piece fails to name any others besides Belgium and France.
McCants’ remarkable work on the Islamic State (ISIS) in its Middle Eastern heartland drew on his knowledge of the region and, indeed, its languages. However, this recent study displays a surprisingly shallow understanding of the French-speaking world. To start with, Francophones are actually a minority in Belgium, where Flemish speakers make up nearly 60 percent of the country’s overall population. And Flanders accounts for more Belgian jihadi foreign fighters than French-speaking Wallonia. Besides, regardless of their whereabouts and linguistic affiliation, Belgian citizens of Turkish descent seem less likely than Belgians of Moroccan origin to embrace violent radicalism. French political culture cannot explain both things.
The assumption that Belgium and France share the same “French political culture” does not hold either. France is a unitary although increasingly decentralized republic, whereas Belgium is a federal kingdom with a high degree of devolution on linguistic and regional lines. The two countries also diverge markedly in their approach to religion. The French Constitution declares that “The Republic neither recognizes, nor salaries, nor subsidizes any religion.” On the other hand, the Belgian state officially recognizes several religions, including Islam, pays the wages of ministers, and offers religious education in public schools. Besides, Sweden, considered by many a model of multiculturalism in Europe, has fewer foreign fighters per capita than Belgium, but more than secular France.
Even McCants and Meserole’s assertion that France and Belgium enforce a “ban of the full veil in their public schools” is inaccurate. Both countries do ban the full-face veil in public spaces. But whereas conspicuous religious symbols of all faiths (including Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh turbans, or large crosses) are banned in all French public schools, in Belgium, rules are defined at the local level. And in both Belgium and France, the decision to ban full-face veils in 2011 came as a response to the expansion of the Salafist interpretation of Islam, which was hardly a French export.