These individuals feel coerced by the predicament of being neither French nor Arab, neither Pakistani nor English. They bear the stigma of double "non-identity" (in France they are "dirty Arabs"; in Algeria, they become "dirty, arrogant Frenchmen"). They find a substitute identity in Islam, and by espousing it, they put an end to their dual non-identity.
In response, they develop characteristics that accentuate their non-citizenship through aggression, a gesture perceived as threatening by others, ways of being that are considered provocative. In terms of language, they develop their own slang about the locals to whom they do not belong: "babtou" (the white), "gaouri" in France. Racism and counter-racism inextricably mix in a mirror game. The transition to jihadism of a small minority of them restores, on the imaginary plane, pride, even dignity in opposition to society, legitimising blind violence against it.
The history of the last half century can also play a significant role. In Nice, the establishment of branches of the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) and, later, the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) in the 1990s after the military coup in Algeria that ousted the Islamic Salvation Front, had a significant impact on the indoctrination or even the radicalisation of a part of the population of immigrant origin in the following decade.
Even if the city does not explain everything, most European jihadists come from areas, cities or regions relatively well circumscribed in space, mostly poor, stigmatised and inhabited by sons and grandsons of immigrants.
Jihadists can also be recruited in middle-class neighbourhoods, but here it is the malaise of middle-class youth, the absence of utopia, the fear of social downgrading and an often atomised and anomic individualism that are at the origin of radicalisation for a youth that can no longer refer to the ideals of the extreme left. In the latter case, the urban structure does not play the same role as in the case of poor neighbourhoods. Still, the latter case is by far the majority among European jihadists.
In short, Europe is sick of its enclaved and impoverished neighbourhoods where young people, mostly of immigrant origin and economically marginalised, are locked up. Not knowing how to integrate them, and as long as this urban structure is not challenged, we can expect either jihadism or a frenzied delinquency in an enclosed environment where at the same time we have the development of a puritanical and sectarian religiosity, a pietist Salafism.
© Open Democracy 2018
Farhad Khosrokhavar is Directeur d'études at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris and Researcher at the Centre d'Analyse et d'Intervention Sociologiques (CADIS). His latest book is Radicalisation (Paris: Editions de la Maison des sciences de l'homme, 2014).