The terror attack in Nice highlights France’s alarming inability to socially integrate its immigrant communities, argues Comment Central.

As further shocking revelations surrounding the Bastille day attacks in Nice emerge, much of the criticism has been levelled against the French security services and their failure to prevent the attacks. While it is right that serious questions are asked of both the police and the French intelligence services, little attention has been focused on the much larger issue at play: France’s poor track record at social integration.

Of the 11 Islamist terror attacks in Europe since the start of 2015, nine took place on French soil. Furthermore, a 2014 report from the French National Assembly found that 899 French residents had been implicated in Islamist networks. Some attribute the high rates of radicalised French men and women to the country’s ongoing bombing campaign against Islamic State, which started in September 2014. And while this is undoubtedly a motivating factor, it is only part of the equation.

France’s relationship with the Arab world is a complicated one. Beginning with the conquest of Algiers in 1830, the country’s second colonial empire saw large swathes of the Arab world, particularly in North Africa, Syria and Lebanon, fall under French rule. The legacy of this colonial expansion is still present today. Waves of immigrant communities from France’s former colonies have contributed to a sizeable Muslim population. A 2015 report from the Pew Research Center indicates 7.5 per cent of French residents are of Muslim descent, while 11 per cent of the country’s population was born outside the country, primarily in Algeria, Morocco and Portugal.

Life is not easy for France’s immigrant population. Large segments remain excluded from mainstream society. Research from INSEE, France’s national statistics agency, shows that in 2013 nearly one-in-five (17.3 per cent) of all immigrants were unemployed, almost double France’s non-immigrant unemployment rate.

The issue of high unemployment is exacerbated by the social isolation experienced by many of the country’s immigrant communities. With France suffering an acute housing shortage in the aftermath of the Second World War, in the 1960s the French government embarked on a vast public housing programme in the suburbs of many of the country’s major cities. The now infamous Banlieues were born. Today, and despite Billions of Euros of investment, many of France’s suburbs are still characterised by crime, poverty, unemployment and social deprivation.

The problem is further compounded by the secular republic’s dogged pursuit of the separation between church and state. In 2004 this resulted in the introduction of a law banning ‘conspicuous’ religious symbols, such as skullcaps, crosses and headscarves from public schools. In 2011, the law was extended to include the wearing of full-face veils in a public setting. Some perceive rules such as these to be unfairly targeting France’s Muslim community, further adding to the sense of social segregation among the community.

Put all of these factors together, and you are left with sizeable numbers of young men and women primed for radicalisation by groups such as Islamic State.

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