'Charlie Hebdo' Attack Punctuates Exisiting Political Tensions | KCUR

'Charlie Hebdo' Attack Punctuates Exisiting Political Tensions

Jan 8, 2015
Originally published on January 8, 2015 5:29 pm

Robert Siegel talks to Patrick Weil, professor and senior research fellow at the French National Research Center in the University of Paris 1, Pantheon-Sorbonne, about how the attack on the satirical publication, Charlie Hebdo, relates to ongoing political tensions in France.

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French historian and political scientist Patrick Weil has made a study of immigration and integration of immigrants in his country. He joins us now by phone. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: Do you see the Charlie Hebdo murders as evidence of a terrorism problem that involves hundreds, maybe thousands of people in France? Or is it a feature of a Muslim problem that involves millions of people, many immigrants and children of immigrants who are poorly integrated into French society?

WEIL: Well, if it was - if you relate to integration, then it is actually what you say. You have a higher rate of unemployment among immigrants and children of immigrants. So you have millions of people who look for a job. Are they becoming terrorists? Of course not. And there are like all the French citizen and the foreign resident in France in big sorrow in a huge majority.

And so the issue is more hundreds of thousands of people who are using a faith, sometimes they are using faith Islam, to organize what was it yesterday organize execution of journalists who were executed because of the views they were making of freedom of speech, freedom of thought, period freedom of conscience.

SIEGEL: But you're saying that that is quite different from the larger problems facing the French Muslim community and the issues there.

WEIL: Yeah because they are Muslim or immigrants are facing some specific problem in terms of integration. And they, in their majority, they want to face this problem within the law and within the means given. When you face problem in any democracy, like in the United States, you organize claims, and you mobilize, and you go to court, and you complain, or sometimes you do nothing. But you respect the law. And you feel part of the community.

SIEGEL: The leader of the French far right National Front, Marine Le Pen, blamed the killings on what she called radical Islam. Another member of her party blamed it on the number of Muslims in France. Is the National Front likely to be the biggest beneficiary of this attack in terms of French politics?

WEIL: I'm not sure that there will be the main beneficiary because what you can notice since yesterday, all leaders of all parties calling for unity of the country - including the Muslim compatriots, who they say might face in the future an increase of prejudice or Islamophobia when they have to face it.

SIEGEL: That there might be a backlash - you're saying there might be a backlash for this.

WEIL: Yes. So I think there was humility from the President Hollande, from the leader of the opposition, Sarkozy, a warning towards all the citizens - be careful not to associate this horrible act of few people with the whole community.

SIEGEL: Are you at all concerned, though, that in these days, when - well, it's been many years now since communism ceased to be a going concern in Europe certainly. Has radical Islam sort of seized the role of speaking for Europe's down and out and for the people who can't make ends meet and who do feel alienated from society? Is it possibly attractive to far more people than it is now?

WEIL: You might be right. I mean, religion, sometimes radical approach of it, can be a way of compensating the lack of perspective given by secular projects. And that questions, especially, the lack of perspective given by the left - the social democratic tradition in Europe or even in the U.S. I would say is in crisis. And so the possibility of hope is not really there. And if it cannot - if this hope cannot be given by secular perspective, some goes to religious approach of hope.

SIEGEL: Patrick Weil, a professor and senior researcher at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. Thank you very much for talking with us today.

WEIL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.