Minister's claim of '100 Molenbeeks' in France sparks debate

2016-03-29 22:28
Police officers check the identity of drivers arriving at Brussels Airport in Zaventem . (John Thys, AFP)

Police officers check the identity of drivers arriving at Brussels Airport in Zaventem . (John Thys, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - France's communities minister has triggered a debate over his claims that there are 100 neighbourhoods in the country comparable to Molenbeek, the Brussels district that spawned many of the jihadists behind recent attacks in Europe.

The minister, Patrick Kanner, had made the comment on Sunday, saying "there are today, we know, around 100 neighbourhoods in France that show similar potential to what happened in Molenbeek".

He claimed the high number of radicalised youths in Molenbeek was linked to "an enormous concentration of poverty and unemployment... a mafia system with an underground economy... where public services have disappeared".

It recalled comments by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls a year ago when he spoke of "territorial, social and ethnic apartheid" in many suburbs in the aftermath of the January 2015 attacks in Paris.

The right-wing opposition has welcomed such views from the Socialist-led government. while others dispute the link between poverty and radicalisation.

"For once we have a minister, Mr Kanner, who has lifted the veil of blindness that covers the eyes and mouth, that is speaking a truth clearly..." said Florian Philippot, one of the main leaders of the far-right National Front party.

But experts say such views only serve to stigmatise working-class areas.

"Kanner has done what his ministry is supposed to fight against: the construct... of poor neighbourhoods as a threat," said Renaud Epstein, an expert on urban communities at Nantes University in western France.

Many French jihadists came from comfortable middle-class backgrounds before heading off to Syria, and experts have long rejected any direct link between poverty and extremism.

'Plenty of little Molenbeeks'

Nonetheless, Valls partly backed Kanner's statement, saying there was a process of "enclosure, sectarianism and radicalisation" happening in some of France's poorer, primarily immigrant neighbourhoods.

A police source told AFP there were "plenty of little Molenbeeks" in France.

"It's not exclusively suburbs, but areas where we see the significant influence of Salafists and hubs of radicalisation. It tends to be beyond the control of security forces," the source said.

The French government has designated 80 "priority security zones" (ZSP) with a further 1 300 areas of concern around the country - mostly run-down and crime-ridden neighbourhoods on the outskirts of cities such as Paris and Marseille.

Kanner released a list of 12 "top-priority" neighbourhoods on Friday.

Molenbeek - with unemployment averaging 42% among people under 25, and annual per capita income of €9 800 - has similar characteristics to these areas.

But experts warn against reducing the problem to statistics.

"If we compare social characteristics, we will find French neighbourhoods that look like Molenbeek, from the point of view of poverty and unemployment, but that doesn't mean there's an automatic and simple link between poverty and groups engaged in jihadist ideology," said Antoine Jardin of the Centre for European Studies at Sciences Po university in Paris.

Read more on:    belgium  |  france  |  paris under attack

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.