D3.1 Country Report | April 2021

Authors: Stephen W. Sawyer, Roman Zinigrad

The substantial increase in incidents of jihadist terrorism in France in the past decade coincides with a reorganisation of the far-right and a sharp decline in ethno-nationalist and separatist violence. Political discourse, government de-radicalisation efforts and public opinion focus almost exclusively on jihadist violence, mainly due to the symbolic and traumatising effect of the 2015 Paris attacks. The fight against (jihadist) extremist violence in the past 10-15 years is characterised by two predominant elements: deliberate fusion of Islam and Muslim religious practice – especially in its stricter forms – with extremist violence; and use of educational measures in preventing violence. As a result, France puts an ever-growing emphasis on the principle of laïcité (secularism) in public schools and the public sphere.

The main agents of jihadist radicalisation in France are international jihadist terrorist organisations – the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda – but online information and social media increasingly facilitate decentralised modes of radicalisation. The radical right activity in France ranges from stable political representation in the French and European Parliaments through marginal political groups and to small-scale violent militant cells. No evidence points to extensive infiltration of radical right groups in police or military ranks.

French de-radicalisation efforts include various educational tools employed in public schools and the public sphere, rehabilitation attempts in and outside prisons, and administrative bans imposed on organisations inciting violence. However, the most ambitious of these efforts are also subject to the biggest criticism. The public school system is a major de-radicalisation stakeholder in charge of instilling in children respect for the regime’s fundamental values (mainly laïcité) as well as for identifying and reporting radicalisation instances to the government. Securitisation of schools and stigmatisation of students are the main issues raised against the present model. De-radicalisation measures undertaken in prisons are currently limited to risk assessment of inmates linked with jihadist violence and lack a meaningful plan for their rehabilitation. Private organisations run more promising initiatives that attempt to rehabilitate radicalised individuals and reintegrate them into society under the government’s supervision. These initiatives show moderate signs of success in their mission but are too recent to be credibly evaluated.