France, Muslims and Terrorism


As noted in this mini-documentary from CBS news “It sucks to be a Muslim in France”…

[I consulted with the producer of the mini-documentary as an expert on the topic]

One of my first trips to Paris as a graduate student in 1995 coincided with a series of terrorist bomb attacks, likely by Algerian Islamic extremists (CNN, 1995), that led to the removal of all garbage cans in the city. Many years later, as a professor working on a book project, I happened to stay in a hotel which was about a block away from where one of the busses had blown up during the 7/7 bombing attacks. Many have written about whether or not terror attacks like the 7/7 bombings or 9/11 have led to a securitization of immigration policy. What is different now is that Europe is currently experiencing the largest flow of refugees since the end of World War II, and most of those refugees are coming from Syria and other parts of the Middle East, meaning many of these migrants are Muslims.

Many European countries have faced terror attacks over the years and have taken a variety of measures to improve security. However, even though new measures may be taken to deal with security, such as stricter screening of immigrants and refugees, most European countries, including countries like Germany, France and Sweden, have remained open to refugees fleeing violence, whether they were Muslims fleeing conflicts in the Balkans or Iraqi minorities fleeing sectarian violence.

Europe has faced a challenge integrating Muslims from various countries and backgrounds. However, it is important to keep in mind that the recent attacks in Paris appear to have been perpetrated by so-called “home grown terrorists,” i.e., radicalized Muslims who were born and raised in Europe. This makes the connection between terrorism and refugees rather tenuous.

Perhaps a larger issue, in terms of integration, is the situation for immigrants, ethnic minorities and Muslim citizens, given that many of them live on the margins of society. Many are the targets of racism, but also have to deal with living in places like the suburbs (banlieus) of Paris where they have little educational and job opportunities. France has been trying to address this issue for many years, with a variety of policies, including antidiscrimination policy, as described in my book, Legislating Equality. Although the French government initially embraced antidiscrimination policy through its equality body, politics eventually reduced the impact of its activities related to racism.

Journalist and documentarian Rokhaya Diallo has examined these issues through the lens of Americans visiting France in her recent work, Steps to Liberty. Going back to the 1995 movie, La Haine (Hate) it seems that little has changed. However, I have seen a new awareness developing among various groups including Muslims and those who now consider themselves black and French. I have written about the impact of racial equality legislation on blacks in France in the book Invisible Minorities. These groups have the potential to develop as voting blocks and to impact politics in France, as well as other European countries. These political developments can be important to the integration of minority groups and may ultimately create a new outlet for the frustrations that can lead to radicalization.






Berlin Day 3: Of monuments and memory

I started rather late today, with breakfast at Schwarzes Cafe on Kantstrasse, a nice spot for eggs and hot chocolate:

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I then went for a walk through the Tiergarten on my way to the German Holocaust memorial.  The Tiergarten is a beautiful, peaceful space in the middle of a busy city. I discovered that they have refurbished several monuments that were badly damaged during the war, but you can still see bullet damage:

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Mozart, and Beethoven



















The next stop was at the Holocaust memorial, it’s a very large space and it was teeming with young people, as usual:

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I had heard about a new memorial to homosexuals who were also victims during the Holocaust, the monument was a little hard to find, but poignant, inside the box a video of same-sex couples kissing plays:

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I ended up at Potsdamer Platz and hung out for a bit before my conference started with a reception at the Canadian Embassy – had many interesting discussions about immigration, discrimination and the role of cities in integrating immigants. As I rode home in a taxi, I had an interesting discussion with my young Turkish driver who complained that despite his college degree he was discriminated against in Germany and that many of his friends were planning to leave Germany once they got their degrees…a story I have heard many times. Despite Germany’s history, there is little recognition of the issues of discrimination today…

Sony Center
Canadian Embassy
Old friend (Simon Woolley) and new friends
Sunset view from the top of the Circus Hotel – BBQ and brew


Berlin Day 2: Connecting with history

Since my first trip to France in 1986, and in particular visiting the Normandy beaches at that time, I have had a sense of the often overwhelming presence of history when visiting cities like Berlin, Paris or London.  With the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings being commemorated this weekend, the events of WWII are even more present. Germany has a particular history with the tragic and horrific discrimination which led to mass murder and genocide. It is something that can’t be avoided when walking through Berlin, but there is a much deeper history here which also needs to be understood as part of the broader context of this ever-changing city.

I started my second day in Berlin with a trip to the East…exiting the U-Bahn at Alexanderplatz and into major construction.  It has been many years since reunification, but the city is still re/building some infrastructure and the U-5 U-Bahn line is a major project that will do a better job of connecting a once-divided city.



The skyline here is dominated by the Fernsehturm (TV tower) and also the cranes that indicate new construction.  However, I wanted to take a step into the past, and headed past the Berlin Rathaus (city hall)


and on to the Nikolaiviertel, which is an area that was badly damaged during WW II and rebuilt in the 1980s.  The area is full of quaint shops and cafes



The quarter is dominated by the St. Nicholas Church (Nicholaikirche) and I decided to do the tour of the interior for the first time. As I listened to the audio tour, I couldn’t help but be saddened, because the tour revealed more about what had been lost than anything else.  So many artifacts, were damaged and destroyed during the battle for Berlin, and although the restoration was admirable, it is a prime example of a historical legacy that can’t be replaced. I had a similar feeling visiting Dresden four years ago, where many of the historical buildings had only been replaced a few years earlier.


As I walked away from the area, I happened to pass by yet another protest.  This one turned out to be a group of refugees who have been taking refuge in a school in Kreuzberg and are hoping to get their papers and avoid deportation – since this woman spoke in English I include the video here:

They are part of a group called Refugee Strike Berlin.  I found it interesting and the blocking of a street in a tourist area in the middle of the day is clearly calling for attention.  I intend to do more research into what is happening with this group. They also had speakers from the Roma community.




















Next I walked towards the Berlin Cathedral, an imposing structure that will soon be joined by the Berlin Schoss (Castle) which is being built across the street – I had seen that this area was becoming a construction site and was interested to see the new development. My understanding is that there will be a new, large space for a German history museum.

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There was some interesting art along the way, as I walked near Humboldt University and back toward the West


I made a stop to enjoy a chai tea and look in a book shop – managed to leave with only one new book, but got lots of ideas of books I want to order when I get home, particularly on German history.  The next stop was Checkpoint Charlie, another reminder of the city’s history of division:

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I was getting tired, but saw the sign that I wasn’t far from the Topography of Terror – an outdoor exhibition in an area where many on the Nazi administration had been housed, as well as a documentation center. The focus of much of the exhibit was the impact of groups that were initially discriminated against and ultimately targeted for extermination, including Jews, Roma (gypsies), and homosexuals. The history is frightening when you realize that normal people were pulled into the evil that the Nazis perpetuated, that went well beyond the war.

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Behind the exhibits is one of the last existing parts of the Berlin wall — the place is haunting in its simplicity and impact… I expect I will write more later as I reflect on this history…the situation of the refugees I described above leaves me wondering how Germans reconcile their past with their present…