D10.1 Country Report | May 2023

Authors: Stephen W. Sawyer, Roman Zinigrad – The American University of Paris, Center for Critical Democracy Studies

This report provides an analysis of civic education-oriented deradicalization policies in France, aiming to understand their rationales, challenges, and prospects compared to alternative approaches. Civic education programs in France aim to address injustice, alienation, and polarizing narratives by improving community life and fostering democratic literacy, critical thinking, and active citizenship. The study focuses on three categories of civic education programs: those implemented by the French Ministry of Education, public-private partnerships complementing judicial and penitentiary mechanisms, and state-sponsored educational activities by a private association working with at-risk youth.

The report presents an overview of each category, followed by a detailed analysis of their structure, aims, and the lessons learned from their mechanisms. It concludes with preliminary recommendations for the future of educational deradicalization programs in France. Over the past decade, the French government has invested significant financial resources in programs targeting jihadist radicalization. The report examines representative activities in the public education system, as complementary elements to judicial and penal institutions, and as social welfare for at-risk youth. Lessons drawn from these initiatives and existing literature provide insights into their impact and potential pitfalls.

Approaching political violence through an educational agenda allows for de-escalation of social polarization and rebuilding trust between the government and the population. Recent programs by the French Ministry of Education, such as civic education initiatives, digital literacy curriculum, and training for educational staff on radicalization, indicate a shift towards prevention and rehabilitation. Government-initiated educational partnerships and support for disengagement activities demonstrate a maturation of the French approach to radical violence.

However, educational deradicalization programs come with risks for students and teachers. Expanding government control and supervision in the classroom beyond directly involved individuals poses challenges. The report highlights potential pitfalls, such as emphasizing laïcité principles as the key element of deradicalization and focusing primarily on jihadist violence.

In contrast, educational initiatives by the Groupe SOS and Itinéraires associations, which do not explicitly focus on radicalization motives, offer promising perspectives for disengagement from radical violence. Social reintegration, rebuilding networks, providing education and employment opportunities, and integrating individuals at risk of radicalization into democratic life appear to be more realistic and effective approaches.

In summary, the report emphasizes the importance of civic education-oriented deradicalization programs in France. While challenges exist, the shift towards prevention, rehabilitation, and social reintegration shows promise for fostering peace, security, social cohesion, and trust.