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Germany and France’s Muslim Problem: Is Political Frustration the Cause?

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In an article published by the Brookings Institute titled “Islam, Jihadism, and Depoliticzation in France and Germany”, author Anouar Boukhars argues that growing Islamic extremism in Germany and France is caused by the depoliticization of Muslims and the failure of political Islam to organize.

The idea of a “Muslim siege,” stemming from the belief that all Muslims are challenging European’s assimilation policies, is driven primarily by islamaphobia, fear, and populism. Boukhars concludes by arguing that the absolute assimilation of Muslims in France and Germany must stop, and integration with political representation must be promoted.

Author Boukhars explains French anxiety over Muslim culture. He reminds the reader that this anxiety is “not a new phenomenon’ (Boukhars, 298). Instead, this anxiety has at least existed since the 1995 bombings of the Paris metro, and was only furthered with the 9/11 attacks and the terrorist attacks on Madrid and England’s pubic transit (Boukhars, 299). This anxiety has created xenophobia, and Muslim communities are stereotypically seen (by European citizens) as communalistic and anti-government. This is termed as “symbolic ghettoization” and Boukhars says the French see Muslim youth as “scum that must be simply rubbed out” (Boukhars, 299).

This mindset grows from events like the 2005 riots in Paris. Boukhars points out the riots were indeed comprised of Muslims, but instead of chanting scripture or other familiar jihad intifada they chanted “liberte, egalite, fraternite” (Boukhars, 299). France’s biggest political Muslim group, the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), is not doing its job of uniting Muslims across France politically. Instead, youth see the UOIF’s image as polluted, since it has constructed deals with the Ministry of the Interior, and failed to loudly voice critical opinions on important Muslim issues (Boukhars, 300).
Anger with already established Islamist groups, Boukhars argues, is evidence of political frustration with the usual mouthpieces.

Boukhars identifies three different salafi groups in France, their stances on French integration, and their attractiveness to Muslims in France. The Salafist (generally a Sunni Muslim) puts emphasis on the piousness of ancestors and follows the Quran in both “action and deed…” (Boukahrs, 300). The three types of salafism in France are broken down into predicative, political, and jihadist.

Predicative salafism is a return to political Islam, a rebirth, and is a-political. Predicative salafism seeks a transnational (global) Muslim identity, founded in individualization. This is the biggest of the three Muslim groups in France, and is non-violent and leadership-less.

The second group is Jihadi-Silafism. This group is revolutionary, moderately violent, and comprised of youth. The identity is transnational, and they view democracy and the west as “racist and discriminatory” (Boukhars, 306). Many in this group are converts frustrated with the imperialist tendencies of western nations. Another tendency of jihadist salafism, Boukhars identifies, is how quick the switch into jihadist tendencies occurs: “not caused by a long process of indoctrination or maturation, but by political marginialization” (Boukhars, 300).

Boukhars summarizes his argument thus far by stating that all three types of salafism “distinguish themselves by their defiance of a political order that is incapable of accommodating…” (Boukhars, 300).

70% of Germans feel they are likely to suffer form a terrorist attack. Germans generally fear a wave of re-Islamized Muslims with no sense of German community or loyalty. Germans view Mosques as being places of growing terrorism. Boukhars makes a distinction between converting to Islam and actually joining a terrorist organization, and suggests Germans often associate conversion to Islam as conversion to terrorism.

Younger converts are more susceptible to this jihadism against western governments. And further, the targets of terrorism in Germany are often militaristic targets, not Christian landmarks. Germany is different from France in that the majority of its Muslim population is from Turkey (not Algeria like France) and is somewhat accepting of secularism. Seeing this, Germany is in less immediate danger than France.

In Germany “there is a disturbing belief that good Muslims are the ones who do not practice their religion and suppress their Muslim identity” (Boukhars, 311). Often times all Muslims are grouped together and equal suspicion is placed on moderate as well as radical groups. This causes disdain with local government; it will do nothing to eliminate threats from radical groups, but instead deliver “nonviolent Islamists into the hands of the radicals” (Boukhars, 312).

To conclude, Boukhars suggests the solution lies in giving Muslims in France and Germany more of a political voice to fill a dangerous void which violence fills. France and Germany must let go of their “absolute assimilationism” and return to integration with “freedom of faith and of conscience” (Boukhars, 313). This political voice will help prevent economic, social, and educational marginalization of Muslim peoples. Instead of taming Islam, putting an end to Islamophobia would further the democratic societies of France and Germany.

Boukhars article has several strengths, but also contains big oversights. The battling of Muslim stereotypes is important. It is expected that citizens of a democratic nation can practice religion freely; this allows for healthy separation of Church and State. Boukhars is correct in identifying the problem as absolute secularism, especially in Germany. Part of assimilation is the acceptance of religious diversity, i.e. we are all allowed to freely practice our beliefs. Being fearful of de-territorialized Muslims with transnational identities, and allowing that fear to drive harsh assimilation policies, is counterproductive to unification in both Germany and France. Driving moderates into the radical arena, stemming from fear of moderates turning into radicals, is a cyclical process that almost guarantees radicalization.

Boukhars is also correct in identifying the failure of organized political Islam as a contributing factor in radicalization. Whatever the reasons, radical groups in France and Germany are unhappy with their mouthpieces. Unhappiness resulting from non-representation is evident, as communities turn to isolation and apolitical tendencies. It is very observant of Boukhars to notice this and cite it as an example of dissatisfaction.

Apolitical tendencies seem to be a precursor among youth for terrorism. The quick transition of moderate to radical is also a great observation, as it helps us realize the severity of the problem.

I think the biggest weakness of Boukhars assertions is that German/French fear is placed directly on Muslims within their country. While that fear is grown by events within and outside of a home country, I think the resulting action from that fear is not necessarily placed on Muslims within the country.

Homegrown terrorism is rare, and Germany and France’s fear is not of their fellow Muslim citizens, but sources outside of Europe entirely, like Al Qaeda. And thus, sadly, moderate Muslims feel the effects of security at home. The resulting “taming” that in-country Muslims feel is not a result of discrimination, but excessive security precautions. Muslims in France and Germany feel isolated and cast out of politics, but the casting out is not out of government fear and demonization, but excessive security.

Additionally, Boukhars fails to criticize the local elements of Islam. Radical elements exist in every religion, and other groups have managed to organize and unite in the face of government opposition. People who share similar ideological beliefs eventually unite when facing government opposition. Why is it that Muslims in France and Germany turn to radicalization instead of uniting politically? Why would someone frustrated with politics in France join the Predicative Salafism movement within Islam and turn apolitical? There has to be a deeper problem than just political dissatisfaction; in France Muslims are avoiding political involvement when given a choice.

Boukhars assumes that Muslim identity rests more in politics than it does in transnational identity. It is not political dissatisfaction, but dissatisfaction with democracy and colonialism. This has less to do with national politics as much as it has to do with global governance. Boukhars dances around this idea but then suggests the solution rests in allowing for increased honest political representation. But Muslims care more about global equality, thus the solution lies in global politics.

National security is important at both a national and international level, as governments main purpose is to protect its citizens. National identity lies within the diverse spread of society. Separation of church and state is imperative for healthy religion. Repression of Islamic representation is a bad thing, certainly, but when followers of salafism turn to violent radicalization, measures must be taken to protect natural born citizens. Assimilation is important, but not absolute secularism, not to the point of creating civil religion.

Several of Boukhars points are verifiable and accurate, but I disagree with his end assertion: that better political representation will quell radicalization. Diversity must be the point for unity in a community, not conflict. This is certainly a very important issue that impacts all Muslims, moderate and radical alike, as well as ordinary citizens.

A vacuum exists, certainly, but unlike Boukhars, I think the vacuum exists outside of national politics. Serious European conversation needs to be had, conversation that leads to a united solution for Muslims and democratic nations, a solution that is in the best interest for the security and rights of all.

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About rynjhnsn

  • MR BG 1

    What happened to the old addage “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. The garb they wear is good for the desert heat but when you are in the dead of winter in Germany, Get a friggin coat. I don’t have a problem with these people one on one, but they are like dogs, when they get in a pack and think that everyone is against them. geeez. If you want to be treated like Germans or Frenchmen, quit acting and looking like terrorist I’m just saying!!!!!!!

  • zingzing

    archie:”The third and by far the smallest is those who openly and publicly condemn the first.”

    because when they do, you shout them down. it’s a wonderful world, isn’t it?

    “However as the first group has proven that they cannot be reasoned with and has absolutely nothing to offer humanity, they should all be shot where they stand on their feet. Wiped off the face of the earth once and for all. I look forward to the day when Europe wakes up,”

    and realizes it’s become the nazis again.

    you really are blind.

  • Baronius

    It seems like both Boukhars and this analysis of his writing follow a very European way of thinking. Representation is good; assimilation is bad. Behind this thinking is the idea that only a member of a group can represent that group’s interests. I could be misreading this analysis, but what’s wrong with assimilation?

  • Arch Conservative

    It seems there is presntly more then one “muslim identity.”

    There are several.

    The first is the group of whackjobs who think that Allah whispered in the ear and told them to rule the earth in his name by any means necessary.

    The second is the so called “moderate muslim” group comprised of those who do not subscribe to the worldview of the first but don’t exactly do anything to condemn it. The lack of condemnation usually stems from fear of retaliation from the first group or some degree of sympathy with it.

    The third and by far the smallest is those who openly and publicly condemn the first.

    Ruvy is right though. Europe is rolling over for the first group. When Theo Van Gogh is murdered because he makes a film that accurately portrays muslim culture in a not so positive light, it’s not because muslims don’t have a political voice. It’s because there’s a group of dedicated whackjobs willing to do such things under the banner of Islam.

    It may at times be difficult to distinguish members of the first and second group because members of the first frequently seek to disguise themselves as members of the second. However as the first group has proven that they cannot be reasoned with and has absolutely nothing to offer humanity, they should all be shot where they stand on their feet. Wiped off the face of the earth once and for all. I look forward to the day when Europe wakes up, remembers they once had a set of balls when the Nazi’s were knocking on the door of eternity and acts like they have a set once again.

  • Ruvy


    You made a detailed analysis of the Wahhabi (those lovely “human beings” who call themselves “Salafi”) who want to bring death and destruction to European culture.

    If the Wahhabi destroy European culture, and the Europeans want to roll over and play dead, I have no problem with that. I live in Israel, not Europe. In the end, persecution of Europeans by Wahhabi – gang rapes, destruction of freedom, murders and assassinations, and eventually massacres – are a fitting vengeance for their treatment of Jews for a good 17 centuries. Let the Arabs do it, and let them get their hands bloody, while we sit in Israel and watch, and encourage our co-religionists to get out of the way, preferably coming home. If THEY haven’t got the brains to get the hell out of Europe, then you only have clear proof that Ashkenazi Jews are terribly stupid.

    The Europeans made a deal with the devil – and now the devil is claiming his due. It’s nice to see. Please excuse me for a moment while I spray the air freshener to rid the place of the stink of sulfur, will you?


  • Ryan, thanks for this article, which is timely in view of news that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in Potsdam today, declared that Germany’s attempts to build a multicultural society have “utterly failed.” In so reporting, the BBC notes: “A recent survey showed that more than 30% of Germans believed Germany was ‘overrun by foreigners.'”

    You write, “Diversity must be the point for unity in a community, not conflict.”

    With respect, this seems self-contradictory. Diversity is the antithesis of unity. Isn’t that just human nature? The more diverse a group, the less unified it is. Why? Because resources are typically scarce, and people value their own particular interests above those of the group. Diversity, then, is a prescription for conflict, not its solution.

    I see this as a positive. Unified groups (e.g., Nazi Germany) are dangerous. Diverse groups (e.g., the GIs we sent overseas to fight the Wehrmacht) are surprisingly effective in working together to achieve a common goal without sacrificing their individual identity.

    You may desire more unity among Islamists in Western Europe, but most French and German natives would likely disagree. To them, Islamists are bad enough in their present splintered condition.