The fall of France….
“Those same people who say there is a lack of authority,” snaps the 60-year-old prefect, “are the same ones who refuse the police access when they try and enter. Those from the Maghreb, by origin, permit themselves to behave in ways that would be unthinkable where they came from.”
“A Jew can’t live where he wants anymore,” says Mme Saada. “Bit by bit, everyone is moving from the banlieues. As soon as there are ethnic populations, and as soon as it gets, shall we say, problematic, the Jews move. The visible ones — they get constantly attacked.”
Islam and the French Republic: From the Banlieues to Le Pen Land
By Ben Judah for Standpoint Magazine.
I am only 20 minutes from my aunt’s flat on Ligne 13.
This is Sunday morning. At the cathedral I count scarcely 500 faithful at Mass. They are almost all black. “This is a black church,” says the old white priest as I leave. Imagine Westminster Abbey in Tower Hamlets, a Tower Hamlets without jobs, which makes it more of a Bradford. This is the banlieue of Seine-Saint-Denis. In a country where ethno-religious statistics are illegal, this is seen as a Muslim-majority territory. To mention Saint-Denis is to start arguing about France’s greatest tension: Islam and the Republic.
Bradford upsets the British less than Saint-Denis does the French. France has a far more virulent rejection of Muslim multiculturalism. The majority even find Islam itself incompatible with the values of French society. The wordcommunitaire is only used with sharply negative connotations. This is because Saint-Denis clashes with the underlying French ideology — La République, the enlightenment scheme whereby there should be nothing between the will of a uniform, secular state and its citizens. No priests, no imams, no community elders.
Last week one of the cathedral’s priests was savagely beaten here, thugs mistaking a long thin book for an iPad. Then they bolted, leaving him with a bleeding nose on the square. My notebook fills with stories like this: of thieves, hoodlums and pickpockets. This is nothing like poor London.
The streets of Saint-Denis talk as if the authorities have lost their grip. Jihadists are waging a dirty war on the Republic, recruiting intensively in these banlieues. Since 2012, stabbings, shootings and car rammings have taken place every few months, punctuated by slaughters such as Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan.
It was here after the Bataclan massacre that the police stormed the hideout of the terrorist mastermind, firing 5,000 rounds. Three jihadis were shot dead, minutes from the cathedral. Their stated ambition was to start a civil war.
The odd woman circumvents France’s ban on complete face coverings, by wearing a little anti-bacterial facemask under tight-fitting hijab. The Catholic faithful drifting out of the cathedral are uncomfortable. “Everything has changed,” says Maria, a 62-year-old cleaner. “Immigration changed everything. The people changed. You can just see it for yourself. The French have all left Saint-Denis. Look around you.” She has lived here for 37 years. “The real French have left. I’m a Portuguese immigrant, and I want to leave too. It’s their own fault they let themselves get screwed like this. But now France is no longer France.”
The square is full of drug pushers, hustling in broad light. They are brazen in a way unthinkable in London. Dishevelled Arab men hawk parsley and fennel out of cardboard boxes where the escalators grind out from the Métro. A Roma beggar without one arm but instead three deformed fingers sprouting from her shoulder stump, chimes “Salaam Aleikum” at the hijabis outside a poky Islamic clothes shop.
In swirls of black cloth, veiled women drift towards the market. Bartering at stalls, almost all the women are in headscarves, penny-pinching for Made In Bangladesh clothes. You hear more Arabic than French, and shaking jangling plasticated sacks, shouting the Arabic for charity — zakat, zakat, zakat — are the Islamists, dominating it, raising coins for the mosque.
“People have gone back to religion,” smiles Idir Mazad over his euro-filled sack. He is a Salafist foot soldier. “And they have gone back hard. The French mistreated them. That’s why.” I flick a German euro into Idir’s sack and he begins to tell his story. Born in Tunisia, he is a 34-year-old security guard. Sometimes he moonlights as an Arabic teacher. “It all really started ten years ago.” As he talks I pick up his aura: one of calm, softness and distance. “Back in the 1990s people in Saint-Denis didn’t live and dress like true Muslims.” Everyone I speak to in the market keeps repeating this.
“The children of this great wave of immigration are living in failure,” he says. “The failure of integration, the failure of schooling, the failure of employment.” Every day, Islamists are gaining ground in Saint-Denis. Militant Salafist and fundamentalist groups are active around the mosques, says the prefect, who finds the imams worryingly reluctant to speak to his officials. “The children of immigrants don’t recognise as their values those values that attracted their parents to France.” He remembers the first wave of North African immigrants: no veils, no beards, no Salafists. They came, he says, not just for French jobs but also for French liberty. “They were proud of those values. But I don’t think their children share the same pride.” Under his administration the prefect sees a generation in thrall to football, rap and Allah. And the old values? “They just don’t attach any value to them.”