Although, in many ways, the reasons for which many recently converted young men decide or have so far decided to go and fight with “God’s fanatics” in Syria and Iraq remain mysterious, those same choices made by girls born and raised in a ‘western’ environment in Europe “totally bewilders us”, admits the sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar in his interview with Reset.
Together with the psychoanalyst Fethi Benslama of the Tunisian Academy, Khosrokhavar is co-author of the book ‘Le Jihadisme des femmes. Pourquoi elles ont choisi Daech’ [The jihadism of women. Why they choose Islamic State], published a few weeks ago by Seuil (112 pages, 15 euro). “Not only do they move to countries at war, they above all submit themselves to a ‘chauvinist’ order in which they must make do with sexually satisfying jihadi warriors and procreate,” and some of them even reach the point of managing “maqqars”, homes reserved to women, and even ‘Islamic brothels’ filled with Yazidi and Assyrian women.
It is in a café in Créteil, in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris, that we meet with Khosrokhavar. Of Iranian origins, he is now the director of the Radicalisation Observatory at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and has addressed the subject of young people’s ‘jihadism’ in the books Radicalisation (ed. MSH 2014) and Prisons de France. Violence, radicalisation, déshumanisation… Quand surveillants et détenus parlent [Prisons of France. Violence, radicalisation, dehumanisation… In the words of guards and detainees] (Laffont 2016) in which he proves that prison environments, due to the promiscuity that reigns and the unwritten laws that regulate their everyday life, are a more than favourable place for establishing criminal or ‘jihadist’ networks.
“The reasons that have encouraged adolescents to enrol are basically humanitarian”, he explains, “related to the horrors perpetrated in Syria by Bashar al-Assad before the advent of Islamic State.” Others instead have chosen to “follow their heroic fighting partners, while some travelled alone desperately in search of a man” with a “romantic vision of love, wanting to marry and have a child while still very young” thereby allowing them to feel grown up, in apparently inexplicable conflict with feminist ideals. Those of French origins primarily come from middle class families, especially those which have converted. The “Islamic city is based on a separation of duties; death for the men and maternity for the women.” These women would rather submit to the ‘patriarchate’ than to the young men they meet on a casual basis and consider immature, “idealising men who seem ‘virile’, intending to die for a cause on the battlefield.”
Most of those enlisted have little to do with religion in the strictest sense, since “everything becomes religious in a Western Europe where a cultural, political or identity sphere no longer exists. Daesch represents a great utopia, more so than Al-Qaeda did in its time as a movement that excluded women.” The Islamic State “has also played a role as an antidepressive; a video released in various languages stated ‘If you feel depressed, come to us!’…” said Khosrokhavar with a smile.
In his opinion, however, “converting, or accepting the ‘hyper-morality’ imposed by radical Islamism often conceals a sense of guilt that adolescent girls who travel there voluntarily experience towards their bodies, sexuality and life in general.” The scholar says that, in his opinion, many of these young girls have experienced sexual violence, at times accompanied by abuse, in their own homes. Conversion is then seen as redemption from suicide, perceived as a desire for moral martyrdom or sacrifice through a husband who dies fighting. This is because “radical Islamism promises them a new, complete femininity,” so much so that one of the girls questioned stated that she preferred “accepting polygamy rather than see her partner betray her.” “Feminine extremism” is however, according to Khosrokhavar, also fuelled by “secular intolerance”. “Why forbid the burkini, or the veil?” “Real republicanism does not consist in removing the veil, but in ensuring that these women become republicans while wearing the veil,” said the scholar. The law “does not solve the problem” and “cultural, political and social intervention is needed.” He therefore hopes in “a more neutral attitude, as far as religious symbols are concerned” in order to dismantle the persuasion that Islam and Muslims are discriminated by the French and that there is a “rift in equality”.
There is another issue that he does not consider secondary: that of the prevailing poverty in European cities with a high concentration of Muslims and therefore, he observes, also that of “ghettoization”. “‘Jihadism’ therefore appears to unite second class citizens.” He also observes, with a degree of regret, that the lack of a “social struggle”, such as has existed in the Seventies, and in its absences, expresses the hope that there will be “a peaceful form of social struggle.”
Reflecting on equality in the République, the scholar also recently addressed the – in his opinion – unbalanced treatment of Jews and Muslims. There are double standards applied in France as far as these two communities are concerned. Together with Michel Wieviorka, who like Khosrokhavar studied with the sociologist Alain Touraine, he has attempted to dismantle all the clichés and déjà-vus in the book Les juifs, les musulmans et la République [The Jews, the Muslims and the Republic], published in March by Laffont, and written in the form of a dialogue. In search of a new model for society, the authors denounce both “Islamic extremism” and “secular extremism”, emphasising the dual crisis affecting the whole of Europe. These crises are the Anglo-Saxon type of “multiculturalism” and “monoculturalism”, hence French-styled “republicanism”. Both models, explains Khosrokhavar, “are anything but successful” and “another model is needed open to the possibility of communication between the various groups.” Europe’s mistake lies precisely in the “illusion that multiculturalism can solve all problems.”
In France there is the “largest Jewish community in Europe, with about half a million people, and about five million Muslims, more than in any other country on the Old Continent.” As far as the Jews are concerned, “they sense that anti-Semitism is on the rise.” Muslims, instead, “are suspected of being passive, if not accomplices as far as ‘jihadism’ is concerned and they therefore find it hard to integrate; their presence in our country has also reignited passions concerning secularism. All in all, our Republic is experiencing a crisis and often appears incapable of keeping faith with its ideals of equality and brotherhood,” he warns us.
Muslims are expected “to be citizens like all others in the public sphere, to not behave as Muslims, but at the same time, to state that although they are followers of Allah, they oppose radical Islamism and terrorism.” Khosrokhavar considers such demands, “contradictory and intolerable.” For the Jews, instead, “the memory of the Shoah prevents all criticism, allowing them to be visible in the public sphere and act strongly as supporters of the Republic.” All this contributes to making Muslims feel alienated.”
The sociologist also observes that “most Jews in France belong to the middle classes, while the majority of Muslims are working class.” This implies that “Jews can always move to Israel, where there are already about 150,000 Jews of French origin,” while, on the contrary, “Muslims have nowhere to go as an alternative to France.” There is therefore an imbalance, “as well as prejudices and misunderstandings, also fuelled by Israel’s policies as far as Palestinians are concerned,” while, on the other hand, “jihadists have tried, and at times succeeded, to kill Jews, such as, for example, at the kosher supermarket in January 2015, and in the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels the previous year.”
So as to oppose nationalism and terrorism, a solution should be searched for in a “collective reflection between Jews and Muslims” aimed at achieving a “generalised dialogue in a more tolerant, open and more ‘humanised’ republic.” Khosrokhavar and Wieviorka, in conclusion, appeal to a “neo-republicanism” that can acknowledge both democratic values and particularisms. They seem convinced that the time has come to transform “this crisis into a debate and revisit the idea of coexistence.” This is what the book proposes, starting with an original hypothesis; “Are Muslims and Jews perhaps not the most suitable subjects for leading everyone to reflect on a rethinking of the French republican model?” Should this not be done to allow France to better address the great current dangers of terrorism, racism, hatred and intolerance?” And, according to Khosrokhavar, it is certain that it will not be la République to come up with a solution. Such a “solution must come from below, from society and in an autonomous manner”, inverting the typically French tendency of “waiting for the state to solve all the problems.”
Translated by Francesca Simmons
Credit: Ludovic Marin / AFP