French Problems –

Are They World Problems? 

By Richard Hobbs 

We have noted for years the riots in France by Muslim youths burning cars, women in their hijabs and long black coverings, and the photos of Muslims praying in the streets blocking traffic.  There are parts of the major cities where the police do not dare go.

There are about 6.5 million Muslims in France, the largest in the European Union, and they are not assimilated–raising fears that there is a parallel Islamic society.  It already exists in the banlieues (suburbs) of some of their major cities where there are some 751 Sensitive Urban Zones (Zones Urbaines Sensibles – ZUS) involving about five million Muslims.  These are “no go” zones for the police and mostly off limits to non-Muslims – where the state has effectively lost control.  Last August, the government increased policing in 15 of the No Go Zones, designating them as Primary Security Zones (Zones de Sécurité Prioritaires – ZSP).

Mosques are erupting all over the country.   A $27 million, 90,000 square foot mega mosque is going up in Marseille despite opposition from citizens and businesses,  with a minaret 82 feet high and space for 7,000 worshippers.  One in Strasbourg is 14,000 square feet with space for 1,500 people.  A three-story,  21,500 square foot mega mosque in Paris, with its minaret deliberately higher than the steeple of any nearby church, is the “new symbol of Islam in France.”  French Interior Minister Manuel Valls noted at the inauguration of the new mosque, less than two kilometers from Notre Dame, that “Islam has its place in France.”

France installed tougher citizenship rules last year trying to make immigrants truly French.  However, Valls himself  issued a warning to Islamists: that Muslims who do not respect France do not have to stay.  “I will not hesitate to expel those who claim to be of Islam, and represent a grave threat to public order, by not respecting the laws and the values of the French Republic.”  It will be interesting to see if he carries that out!

Newly-elected President François Hollande rode to victory with 93% of the Muslim vote in the recent election.  That was 1.7 million votes; he won by 1.1 million.  He promised amnesty for 400,000 illegal Muslims and that Muslims without citizenship would vote in the 2014 elections, perhaps placing a Socialist Party lock on the country.  However, opinion surveys show that the French populace increasingly views the Muslims as a threat to French national identity—that could backfire.

There are several problems involved.  France, like other European countries with former colonies, had open immigration from Algeria which was a department of France until 1962.  Labor shortage is exacerbating as the population ages.  In addition to the multiculturalists in France, there is also outside influence, such as a $65 million program from Qatar to help in the suburbs.  The problem with that is that the Qataris are Wahhabis like the Saudis and they do not promote integration. Instead, they want to impose their radical ideology and they support jihad against non-Muslims, which may further radicalize Muslims in France.

In addition to their troubles with Muslims at home, the French face a serious threat from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in their former colony, Mali (there are 6,000 French citizens there, plus interests in uranium).  The Tuaregs in the north have long been at odds with the government in Bamako and have now set up a “caliphate” centered on Timbuktu.  They have installed Sharia law with amputations, stonings, and veils for the women (if they disobey, cut off their ears).  The Tuaregs fought for Qaddafi in Libya, and after his fall brought home much military equipment, including SA-7 and SA-2 surface to air missiles.  A coup by junior military officers last year destabilized the country.  US Special Forces had trained many units there over the past five years, but, unfortunately, most were Tuaregs, and some 1,600 deserted and took their weapons with them to the north.  So, many of the best trained troops are gone.

This is a vast area, larger than France or Texas (almost the same size as Afghanistan) and mostly desert.   In addition to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Maghreb), there is Ansar Dine and the Movement for Jihad and Unity in West Africa.  Together they have established bases and a logistical system, have some caves for storage, built fortifications, dug tunnels, brought in generators and solar panels, and use GPS.  It was their movement toward Bamako that forced the French to send in troops to block them.  The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2071 calling for a 6,000 man force to restore the country: 3,000 from Mali and 3,000 from other African countries.  However, that would require training and take considerable time.

The French action was met by the seizure of hostages at a natural gas complex in Algeria near the Libyan border directed by a one-eyed Algerian leader in Mali named Moktar Belmoktar.  The Algerian government moved rapidly to remove the militants who were killing hostages and trying to destroy the complex.  Figures were sketchy at first but rose to over 80.  Later figures were 37 hostages from 8 countries killed (including 3 Americans) with 5 missing and 29 militants killed and 3 captured. AQIM threatened that no Frenchman was safe anywhere in the world and that every French national is a target.

There are numerous lessons here.  Most of the rest of Europe has similar problems with Muslims and some believe that Europe could become Muslim in coming decades – Eurabia.  Mali may well be the next Afghanistan, in the wake of the two smaller “Afghanistans” – Yemen and Somalia.   AQIM operates not only in Mali (it originated in Algeria and was involved in the Benghazi attack),  but in a corridor across much of the northern Sahel.  This 7,000-kilometer (4,300-mile) belt from the Atlantic at Mauritania, across Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, Chad, and on to the Red Sea may well come up on the US radar as there is no strategy to contain the Sahel.  The US has already committed logistical and communications support to the French effort and it appears that US drones will be deployed.  The seizure of hostages in Algeria demonstrates the ability of jihadists to retaliate (note for any attack on Iran!).

The problems for France are the problems for Europe and may well be the problems for the rest of the world.  Getting our troops out of Afghanistan will not end our confrontation with radical Islam.  We have been at war with Islam since 1979 (fall of the Shah and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) and we still do not recognize it.  The inappropriately named Arab Spring is the Muslim Winter and it will be a long cold one.


Colonel/Dr Richard Hobbs is a retired combat infantry officer, professor, and businessman. He has worked, taught, and written in the international arena for over 50 years including the Pentagon, the State Department, and in international operations for a major corporation.


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