After a series of terror attacks in 2015 and 2016, security issues are among the primary concerns of French voters heading into this spring’s presidential elections. As the European country with the largest Muslim minority, the issue of Islam in France and how to tackle terrorism is particularly fraught, and it is interwoven into broader debates about immigration, nationality, identity, secularism, and social cohesion. Furthermore, with right-wing politicians across Europe eager to galvanize their electorates, they have intensified concerns, incited Islamophobia, and exploited public misunderstandings of the teachings and practices of Islam.
To provide a broader portrait of Islam in France and dispel misapprehensions surrounding the fraught dynamics of mosque and state, the Paris-based think tank Institut Montaigne has recently released a data-driven report on Muslims living in France. On March 27, the Center on the U.S. and Europe (CUSE) and the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at Brookings hosted a panel discussion with Project Director Hakim El Karoui and Senior Counselor Dominique Moïsi of the Institut Montaigne to unpack the conventional wisdom and polemics about Muslims in France. The panelists considered whether better policies can be implemented that address the root causes of radicalization in French society, such as socioeconomic marginalization and inequality, while increasing safety and security. Shadi Hamid of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at Brookings provided remarks, and Philippe Le Corre of CUSE moderated the conversation.