French Ponder Repercussions of Non-Integrated Muslims

The London bombings have awoken Europeans to the specter of home-grown terrorism. That awareness is most acute in France, which has the continent's largest Muslim population. Many say the failure to integrate Muslim immigrants and their French-born children into French society could leave a sector of the population ripe for radicalization.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Here's a little news update from London. Police continue trying to find those responsible for the second round of explosions on the public transport system. Those came yesterday. And today police shot and killed a man at an Underground rail station. That was this morning. They were searching for suspects. They have issued pictures of men they're looking for.

The London bombings raise the issue of local terrorism throughout Europe, especially in France, which has the continent's largest Muslim population. That country's failure to embrace and engage Muslim immigrants and their French-born children leaves them vulnerable to radicalism. Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(Soundbite of street noise)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting:

In the suburbs of Paris and other French cities, a generation of North African Muslims is coming of age in blocks of monolithic housing projects. Built in the 1960s and '70s to house workers and their families who came from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria in times of economic boom, today these sinister neighborhoods called cites are known for crime and drugs. Last month, a 12-year-old boy died here in the cross fire of gang guns. In this parallel society, Islamic fundamentalism is also gaining a foothold. Olivier Roy, author of "Globalized Islam," says it's a classic phenomenon for second- and third-generation immigrants to look to their roots as their traditional culture fades away.

Mr. OLIVIER ROY (Author, "Globalized Islam"): The small things of radicals find in radical Islam a way, you know, to express both their importantness and their opposition to the existing world order.

BEARDSLEY: Roy says Europe faces two different problems. It must deal with radicals, but it must also acknowledge a new population of Muslim Europeans. Louis Caprioli, who led French anti-terrorism forces until March 2004, says France learned to deal forcefully with terrorists ever since Algerian networks began carrying out attacks and forming cells in France in the 1980s and '90s.

Mr. LOUIS CAPRIOLI (Former Leader of French Anti-terrorism Forces): (Through Translator) Our policy has been to neutralize attacks before they occur, and so our operations have often been criticized by human rights groups. But we respect French law to the letter. France has been faced with terrorism on its soil for 30 years, and so it's given itself the legal and judicial tools to deal with it.

BEARDSLEY: Caprioli is referring to the law against associating with suspected terrorist organizations which allows police to arrest suspects before a crime has been committed. In the wake of 9/11 the CIA financed an intelligence-sharing operation in France known as Alliance Base to take advantage of the country's strict anti-terror laws and efficient Islamic surveillance networks. Olivier Roy says where France has been less successful is in integrating French Muslim youth.

(Soundbite of call to prayers)

Unidentified Man: (Chanting in foreign language)

BEARDSLEY: In Laconerv(ph), the Union of French Islamic Organizations provides a mosque and community facilities and works with the French government and other groups to make Muslims a part of French democracy. Noradeen Farcie(ph), who heads up the Muslim youth arm, was born and raised in France and considers himself French to the core. He says what the British-born Muslims did in London shocked him.

Mr. NORADEEN FARCIE (Muslim Youth Arm): (Through Translator) I just don't understand it. It's not rational. If you live in England or France, you know you have the freedom to practice your religion, to build your life and participate in politics. And these forms of expression, we don't have in many of our original countries, and that's why our parents have encouraged us to take part here.

BEARDSLEY: But Farcie admits that the hardest thing to overcome is the social and economic disadvantages, especially if you've grown up in the projects. Many politicians are trying to change the dynamics of France's Muslim ghettos.

(Soundbite of children playing)

BEARDSLEY: This year, the mayor of Laconerv set up a beach with a 60-foot swimming pool in an abandoned field between the high-rises. Kids swim and parents sit back in lounge chairs under implanted palm trees. A group of mothers sits around talking. They are all French-born Muslims whose parents came from Algeria. Some are veiled; some are not. They say they are French like everyone else. But Nadia Bakti(ph) admits that she still worries about her 14-year-old son.

Ms. NADIA BAKTI (Mother): (Through Translator) You know, the young people here in the projects do feel torn between two cultures, and they're not really from either, not fully French or North African. So there's a sense of rejection and that, coupled with discrimination, often leads to violence.

BEARDSLEY: Bakti says the beach was a huge success, but there are not enough such opportunities for young people. When the beach closes at the end of the week, she knows her son will go back to playing in the projects and she fears what will become of him. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Laconerv, France.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. There's more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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