Muslim population in French prisons sparks integration debate

The estimated 40,000 Muslims in French prisons reflects persistent social divisions between Muslims and other French citizens

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The question surrounding Muslims’ integration in France has returned to the forefront of public discussion this week, following a report that 60 percent of inmates in the country come from “Muslim religion or culture.”

Le Figaro reported rightist MP Guillaume Larrive as saying French prisons are susceptible to Islamist extremism, and “several hundred prisoners” might have been radicalized.

He suggested that “specialized anti-radicalization units” be formed for inmates who had returned from jihad, as well as increasing surveillance.

Mathieu Guidere, a French university scholar of Islam, told Al Arabiya News that “the alarming number of Muslim inmates in France is a direct consequence of the failure to integrate minorities.”

The estimated 40,000 Muslims in French prisons reflects persistent social divisions between Muslims and other French citizens, Guidere added.

Other analysts pointed to economic factors. “Muslim prisoners in France are usually unemployed and living in the most poverty-stricken suburbs,” Raphaël Liogier, a French sociologist and political scientist, told Al Arabiya News.

They are often second-generation immigrants of Arab origin who arrive in France in complicated financial situations, he added. “They’re usually frustrated, and end up committing crimes as revenge against society.”

However, some analysts said Larrive was using the issue as a political weapon against President Francois Hollande and his government.

“At a time when French citizens are fearful of Islam, and when Hollande’s government is very weak, Larrive tries to worsen the situation and blame the leftists for the high figures of delinquency committed by Muslims in France,” Liogier said.

“Many in France” blame the country’s role in the Middle East “for the rise of terrorism and criminal behavior on French soil,” he added.

A survey conducted by Ipsos in January found that 74 percent of French citizens view Islam as “intolerant” and “incompatible” with French values.

Also, 70 percent of respondents said there were too many foreigners in France, and 67 percent said they no longer felt at home in the country.

Jeanne Sautière, director of integration and religious groups for the French prison system, told the Washington Post that “there is no correlation between Islam and delinquency.”

Guidere said a distinction should be made “between the vast majority of Muslims who are integrated into French society and want to live in peace, and the tiny minority who are marginalized and want to destroy this process of integration and peaceful life.”

He added: “Some Muslims in France become very successful and manage to prosper in society.”

However, “there’s no doubt that the high number of jailed people with a Muslim background won’t help improve their image in France, quite the opposite.”

Guidere said the perception of Islam in the West had worsened considerably since the rise of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq militant group.

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