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COMMENTARY: The ‘No-Go’ bastions inside European cities

Henry Srebrnik
Henry Srebrnik

The year 2016 has seen a spare of major terrorist attacks, as well as lesser crimes of violence, across Europe. Most of the perpetrators of these crimes live in so-called no-go zones, enclaves that are almost exclusively populated by Muslims in otherwise prosperous cities. Some are now becoming separate Islamic societies where sharia, the Islamic legal and moral code, is effectively replacing the country’s own legal system.

These are areas of high unemployment, especially high youth unemployment. Young people in these places, marginalized and with few prospects, feel like victims.

They are fertile ground for radical Islamic preachers and they become prime targets for jihadist propaganda, often after a stint in jail for petty crimes.

In the streets of Saint-Denis on the outskirts of Paris, extremists are recruiting extensively. Philippe Galli, Saint-Denis’s most powerful French official, has admitted that the police are too frightened to enter alone most areas under his control.

“The children of immigrants don’t recognize as their values those values that attracted their parents to France,” he added.

Cities like Strasbourg have similar areas, such as the neighbourhoods of  Meinau and Neuhof. There are now 572 no-go zones in the country, officially defined as “sensitive urban areas.”

The German towns of Dinslaken, Duisburg, and Wuppertal in North Rhine-Westphalia have also become hotbeds of Islamist radicalization. The adherents are younger than they used to be, and their radicalization happens over a shorter period of time, according to the Federal Criminal Office.

In Duisburg there are neighborhoods where the police hardly dare to stop a car, because they know that they'll be surrounded by 40 or 50 men. These attacks amount to a “deliberate challenge to the authority of the state - attacks in which the perpetrators are expressing their contempt for our society,” reported Rainer Wendt, President of the German Police Union.

In effect, the no-go zones - Saint-Denis in France, Maalbeek in Belgium, Norrebro in Denmark, Tensta in Sweden, Duisburg in Germany, among many others - are states within a state that provide shelter for radicals who may become terrorists.

A study released in September by the liberal Montaigne Institute in Paris reported that 60 per cent of French Muslims support the right to wear the hijab headscarf in schools and other public institutions, while 29 per cent said sharia should be more important than French national law.

These findings are very troubling to most people in the country, a nation proud of its secular republican identity.

“But restricting such practices causes wounds that go much deeper than the prohibitions themselves: It allows Islamists to exaggerate the implications and accuse France of Islamophobia,” according to Farhad Khosrokhavar, a sociologist at the Ecole des hautes études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

In Denmark, the Immigration Ministry has sought to avoid what it calls “parallel societies” of migrants living in “vicious circles of bad image, social problems and a high rate of unemployment.”

Muslims do not assimilate as easily as Europeans or some Asians, asserted Denmark’s culture minister, Bertel Haarder, partly because their patriarchal culture frowns on women working outside the home and often constrains freedom of speech.

In a book written with journalist Thomas Larsen, Danish Queen Margrethe suggested that some immigrants and refugees have failed to properly integrate into society.

“It’s not a law of nature that one becomes Danish by living in Denmark. It doesn’t necessarily happen.”

As Leon Hadar, senior analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group, wrote in the National Interest in September, Western secular liberals seem ideologically unable to confront this problem, so the reaction has been the growth of xenophobic anti-immigrant parties such as the French National Front and the Alternative for Germany.

Pessimists wonder whether Europe’s secular cultures will survive.

- Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

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