Why other European cities might be frightened by the events in France this week

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Marco Werman: France isn’t the only European country dealing with tensions with and within its Muslim and immigrant population. I’ve seen it play out in Britain; also in Italy when I lived in Rome some years ago. The African activists I’d met felt even more left out--France had more colonies in Africa than Italy and at least knew how to engage its former subjects. But it seems everywhere you go in Europe, you find this tension to some degree. Clark Boyd joins me now. From 2010 to 2012, he covered stories across Europe for The World from his perch in Brussels. So Clark, we just heard from Jonathan Laurence about France’s troubles with Muslim integration and immigrant integration. How about Belgium where you were?

 

Clark Boyd: Oh yeah, certainly Marco. The entire I lived in Brussels, this was an issue. Brussels has a large Muslim population and I think in a similar way, as you in Paris, where a lot of Muslims and immigrants live in the Banlieue around Paris--there are certain neighborhoods in Brussels that are considered the Muslim neighborhoods, and I have to tell you that on certain occasions where I would want to go down and talk to certain people, it’s really hard for outsiders to gain access to it. I would also hear a lot of people who lived in Brussels that would say “Oh, we never go there.” So, there was this feeling of “Yes, there are a lot of Muslims living in Brussels. Are they integrated into the city? Not so much.”

 

Werman: And as you traveled across Europe on assignment reporting, did you find that situation in Brussels duplicated in a lot of places?

 

Boyd: Yeah, always in slightly different ways. But you saw it wherever you went, there was this tension of “Are Muslims being integrated into the society or are they not, and to what extent?”

 

Werman: It can be a religious gulf it seems, cultural as well, but it’s led actually to an economic gulf and I’m just wondering, how has Europe’s ongoing economic crisis contributed attention to it even more?

 

Boyd: Oh, I think it’s contributed hugely and I really saw that when I was in Greece, reporting during the economic crisis there. Greece was going through this horrific economic crisis there and at the same time they were being flooded with immigrants arriving on boats illegally, many of them from Muslim countries, North African countries, and they just did not know what to do with them. A lot of these guys were being left homeless on the streets. I remember going out one night and I just remember those guys coming up to me and saying “Help me with my papers, help me with my papers, help me with my papers.” These people really wanted into Europe. The Greeks, on the other hand, were saying “The Greek government can’t even feed us right now. Why should we be taking care of you?”

 

Werman: And maybe it’s cause and effect, but what about the rise of far right parties in Europe? Is that exacerbating things even more than they ought to be?

 

Boyd: Yeah, that’s a real chicken and egg kind of thing, because I think that anti-immigrant feeling was there in Europe the whole time, I think it’s been growing for many, many years now. Obviously a lot of Muslims in Europe are extremely dissatisfied with the situation they find themselves in. A lot of the younger Muslims that you talk to, they’re especially--in the aftermath of the Iraq war, there was this sense that they’re becoming radicalized, they’re very unhappy, they can’t get those jobs in Europe that they were kind of promised. Or if they’re second generation, they’ve given up on their parents idea of integrating into society. So, there’s that. Then at the same time, you’re seeing, because of the economic crisis I think, a lot of white working class Europeans saying “I don’t have a job anymore and I’m looking for somebody to scapegoat.”

 

Werman: Well, as we were talking earlier, and a lot of people have been saying just how horrific this attack this week in Paris was, but forgetting about this other attack that was committed by another member of the far right in Norway in 2011.

 

Boyd: Yeah, remember what Anders Behring Breivik did in Norway? And I actually think that that’s a really good example of the rise of this far right sentiment there, because look at who Anders Behring Breivik attacked. He may have been Islamophobic, but who he attacked was the white liberal establishment who he felt was part of this coddling of Muslims.

 

Werman: The shooting took place at kind of a Christian democrat/social democrat camp.

 

Boyd: Exactly.

 

Werman: There does seem to be a lot of lip service to the tense divisions between the new Europe and the old, at least from the center and the center left parties across Europe, but as far as action and really tackling the problems, can you explain why European countries seem to have been reluctant to deal with these issues?

 

Boyd: In their own way, they’ve all tried to deal with it in their own terms, and I think, to a certain extent, they’ve all kind of had blinders on about how well they think it’s working. You would talk to a lot of government officials who would say “No, no, no, we’re getting this right. We’re integrating Muslims, we’re integrating immigrants into our society, we can coexist.” But at the same time, then you’d hear from disaffected people within the country, both immigrant and nonimmigrant alike, saying “No, we’re not really integrating these people into our society and we don’t want to integrate these people into our society.”

 

Werman: The World’s Clark Boyd, thank you very much.

 

Boyd: You’re welcome Marco.