In the weeks after the horrific attack on political satire publication Charlie Hebdo, much of global attention has been turned onto the tensions between free speech within a pluralistic society. While world leaders rallied under notions of unity and solidarity, minority communities that exist along the outskirts remain excluded from the touted integration system of French society.
“…the nation’s preoccupation with last week’s attacks at the hands of Islamic extremists presents a mere distraction from a fundamental social crisis that has plagued France’s immigrant neighborhoods for decades.”
The attacks, portrayed through mainstream media as motivated by an ideological objection to free speech, possess another dimension that relates directly to individual disenfranchisement caused by economic and social isolation. These push factors, that are felt throughout minority populations, play as central a role in these recent attacks as the oft mentioned ideological radicalism.
Speaking concretely, the poorest banlieues hold an unemployment rate that almost doubles the nations. Furthermore, more than half the inhabitants of these banlieues are from foreign countries including Algeria, Morocco, and areas in sub-Saharan Africa. Public institutions fail and residents of these areas are caught in a cycle of reinforcing poverty that alienates its residents along racial and cultural lines.
This sense of isolation is felt strongly by minority youths in these areas as well. Limited in available educational opportunities, their social and economic agency is severely limited. This frustration is further compounded by instances of prejudice within the menial jobs that are available. France, whose society prides itself upon the ideals of secularism has yet to address these social and economic issues that happen to exist within ethnic boundaries and spaces. Its failure to do so can then lead to recurring instances of those similar to Said and Cherif Kouachi, the attackers in the Charlie Hebdo incident.
Unfortunately, such an emphasis on the social and economic imbalance is absent from mainstream media coverage. While these issues of disenfranchisement felt among minorities may not be the sole cause of youth attraction to radicalism, it is an important aspect that should be considered when weighing appropriate responses.