Fabien Truong used to be a teacher in the banlieues – the deprived French suburbs – where he has witnessed the rise in radical Islamism. Now a sociology professor at Paris 8 University, he has written a book called Radicalized Loyalties that sets out to explain why young French Muslims reject France for a violent, globalised identity.
In an interview for France 24, Truong also opened up about losing a friend in the Bataclan attack and how that motivated him to put pen to paper. What he found from his experience in the banlieues was a degree of denial and incomprehension within communities about those individuals who succumb to terrorist radicalisation.
And yet a closer look at those individuals – the guy next door – would also reveal somebody with a history of delinquency. By being radicalised and changing their name, these individuals believe they have whitewashed their past. The reality, however, is that they bring to bear many of the skills they developed as criminals but into a new and potentially more terrifying space.
Interestingly, Truong says some of those radicalised are also rationalising previous violent incidents in their lives – the untimely deaths of friends, for example. They also look for political narratives that fill an intellectual void. Other narratives could have performed the same task but the reality is that a radicalised Islamism has got there first.
Truong talks about the “re-conversion” of young men – it’s nearly always men – to a form of Islam that makes them feel “cleaner”, better than other people and in a sense – on show. “It’s a great excitement of washing everything away”, he notes. Ironically, their knowledge of Islam is often quite poor – it’s all show with little theological substance.