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Why is France a target? Look to its alienated Muslim youth

Friday’s tragedy was just one of a number of terrorist attacks suffered by Paris across the past decade. Former New York Times Paris bureau chief Elaine Sciolino offers her take on why France has been a target.

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    Paris is no stranger to tragedy. Extremists have targeted the city a number of times in the past decade. The wounds were still fresh from this year's assault on a satirical magazine and Jewish market when Friday's attacks unfolded.

    We wondered why France now has become such a target.

    Former New York Times Paris bureau chief Elaine Sciolino has been writing from France since 2002. She explains for us the social and political dynamics behind the recent violence.

  • ELAINE SCIOLINO, Former New York Times Paris Bureau Chief:

    France has long had a North African Muslim population. I mean, France colonized Algeria, and many Algerian Muslims moved to France. This has been this way for decades.

    And most French Muslims are well-integrated into French society. But there is a huge swathe of young people who are French citizens that doesn't feel French, that feels alienated. Why? Because there is terrible discrimination against Muslims.

    France is suffering from a horrible economic crisis. Unemployment in France is more than 10 percent. It's a record high. Among young Muslims, many of whom live in the troubled suburbs that ring Paris and other major metropolitan areas, it's upwards of 40 percent.

    If you have got no hope, if you have got no access to equal education or jobs or housing, what are you going to do? It's very easy to take a bus from Paris to Istanbul and then go over land into Syria. It's a kind of summer camp, a summer's terrorist training camp.

    To a certain extent, Muslims in France feel stigmatized. There has been a law since 1905 that separates church and state. It's called laicite, or secularism, so that the French national ideal of republican values is triumphant. But Muslims don't often fit into this cookie-cutter model what it means to be French.

    Muslim women, for example, believe they should wear a head scarf. In 2004, a law was passed banning the wearing of head scarves in French schools. It was couched as a general rule against ostensible signs of religion, so that you couldn't wear a large Christian cross, for example, but it was largely aimed at the Muslim population of France.

    There's like a cultural divide that is only going to get worse with these recent attacks, because the far right is using these attacks to instill fear in the French population that all immigration is bad, that there have to be more measures for law and order and protection of the country, and that, somehow, immigration means Muslims, means radicalization, means terrorism.

    Paris is Paris. Paris has been under siege before. Paris has seen a lot worse. And Paris will thrive.

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