EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The lack of integration into France of many Muslims over a long period, combined with severe socioeconomic problems, has produced bitterness, alienation, and fertile ground for radical imams who use the French separation between state and religion (Laïcité) to promote uncontrolled Islamist radicalization. The French leadership has failed to cope with these problems as it is not politically correct to intervene in religious matters. The ISIS terrorist attacks, perpetrated by radicalized French Muslims, brought the issues to the center of the public discourse. President Macron embraced many of his predecessor’s counterterrorism measures and moved further with ambitious de-radicalization plans designed to address the core problems, including mounting suburban crime. However, increasing Muslim radicalization, as well as a growing left-right polarization regarding the ways to tackle the problem, still present serious challenges to the French republican order.
French president Emmanuel Macron, in a major policy address at the August annual French ambassadors’ conference, reiterated that the fight against Islamist terrorism is his top priority goal. During his presidential campaign and soon after his election, Macron underlined that his main objectives – alongside his social and economic platform – were to ensure security within France and to fight Islamist terrorism as a central pillar of his foreign policy.
Macron inherited the complicated problem of Muslim radicalization, which for years had been either swept entirely under the carpet or inefficiently dealt with. Initially, the problem relates to the lack of integration into the French society and economy of numerous second- and third-generation French Muslims of North African descent who live mainly in the suburbs around Paris and other cities in France (they are estimated to number between six and eight million). Many years of unsolved socioeconomic problems such as high unemployment (especially among young people), poverty, poor housing, and low-level schools produced a vicious circle of high crime rates, resentment, and alienation on the one hand and growing discrimination towards Muslims in French society on the other.