Farhad Khosrokhavar writes: Whether Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who killed more than 80 people during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, was an agent of the Islamic State or an unhinged loner who borrowed the group’s jihadist symbols, the slaughter raises the same fundamental question: Why do so many more attacks of this magnitude occur in France than in other European countries?
Belgium has also been hit recently, but less often. In Britain and Spain no terrorist attack has killed more than 10 people in over a decade. In Germany, there hasn’t been a major attack at all.
Failures in the French security and intelligence services cannot account for the difference, because communication problems afflict such services throughout Europe. The answer lies elsewhere: When it comes to jihad, too, there is a French exception.
France’s distinctiveness arises in part from the ideological strength of the idea the nation has had of itself since the French Revolution, including an assertive form of republicanism and an open distrust of all religions, beginning, historically, with Catholicism. This model has been knocked around over the years, first by decolonization, then by decades of economic hardship, the growing stigmatization of cultural differences, the fervent individualism of new generations and globalization, which has narrowed the state’s room for maneuver.
Above all, France hasn’t been able to solve the problem of economic and social exclusion. Its system, which is too protective of those people who have jobs and not open enough to those who don’t, breeds angst all around. Young people in the banlieues, marginalized and with few prospects, feel like victims. They become prime targets for jihadist propaganda, often after a stint in prison for petty crimes. [Continue reading…]