November 1, 2010
Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaïsse argue that in his recently released audio recording targeting France, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was likely trying to further antagonize the tense relationship between the French state and the country’s Islamic population to further his goal of radicalizing European Muslims. But bin Laden demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the current French social landscape: Rather than exacerbating tensions, his clumsy intervention might actually help fix some of the damage done by the French government’s hot and cold relationship with Muslim communities.
The country’s record during the last two years has been mixed for Muslims in France. At the local level, integration is indeed taking place: Islam is increasingly accepted as part of the French landscape; Muslim chaplains have been appointed in the armed forces; and mosque construction is no longer controversial, as it was earlier this decade. On Oct. 27, the al Qaeda leader issued a two-minute declaration threatening the death of seven hostages taken six weeks ago in Niger by offshoot-group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and warning of attacks if France continues fighting alongside the United States in Afghanistan and proceeds with the burqa ban. By all appearances, it seems that bin Laden’s latest communiqué may have the effect of actually repairing the relationship between the French Muslim community and the wider electorate — and uniting them in a common cause: the battle over retirement benefits and budget cuts.