PARIS â€" The Nov. 13 attacks that saw jihadists slaughter at least 129 people in Paris raise two crucial questions: Who ordered these attacks? And who carried them out?
The answer to the first is ISIS, the so-called Islamic State that spreads terror, slaughters Muslims and non-Muslims, destroys treasured monuments inherited from centuries and millennia past, and presents a hodgepodge of obscurantist totalitarianism and mythological Islam that has no historical basis, even among the most extreme sects.
The threat of this new entity was, until Nov. 13, routinely underestimated. But the lesson is clear: ISIS must be destroyed in Syria and Iraq before it contaminates other parts of the world, from Libya to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Al-Qaeda is a mere dwarf in comparison. ISIS enjoys a territorial base, a multi-billion-dollar war chest, the contribution of some 25,000 young fighters from around the world and, most importantly, the stability of an administration and a propaganda apparatus that al-Qaeda never had.
Until now, the Americans, discouraged by their unfortunate interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, have refused to send ground troops. And Europe, ever the in role of supporting actor, has no unified policy against this thug-state. We should overcome this feeling of collective impotence and take draconian measures to annihilate ISISâ€™ territory.
Jihadist reserve army
But even if we know who ordered the attacks, the second question is just as crucial, and no less thorny. Those who have actually carried them out are Europeans, Belgians and French. They grew up in Franceâ€™s banlieues, its suburban ghettos, and their Belgian equivalent. They are driven by an unquenchable hatred against this Europe that raised them and educated them, more or less well.
There is, at the heart of Europe, a jihadist reserve army made of young dropouts from the suburbs and poor inner cities. In a perverse way, theyâ€™re more European than the Europeans. Theyâ€™ve created a European Union of Jihadists, whereas European nations are struggling to adopt a single police and intelligence service capable of taking on the cross-border terrorist scourge.
In the short term, we will be able to fight against this reserve army with arrests and incarcerations. But in the long run, we will have to neutralize it with social and economic measures, to bring these youths out of the ghettos and invent a new form of urbanism and socialization.
These youths identify with jihadism less for religious reasons than for questions of identity and social inclusion. They see Islam as a symbol of resistance because no other creed, due to the exhaustion of far-left ideologies, can bring them that extra bit of soul and support of the sacred.
Since 2013, departures to Syria for jihad from France (the highest number of jihadists in Europe) and Belgium (the highest proportion of jihadists in Europe) are the background of the current European malaise. Among these volunteers, there are a growing number of members of the middle class.
But the dominant jihadist model, that of youths from the banlieues, continues to function, equipped as it is with a formidable anthropological instrument: hatred of society, sanctified under the catch-all expression of jihad, which has been perverted and emptied from all religious content in the strict sense of the term.
Thirst for revenge
This hatred is taking a new form: it includes the whole of Europe, knows no national borders and targets all Europeans (including those who are Muslim). It is a desire to punish, to take revenge against a society that, in their minds, tries to dehumanize them by parking them in ghettos and denying them the dignity of the average citizen.
But this unhealthy victimization, founded on half-truths about racism and islamophobia, doesn't hide its mythologized character and its Manichaeism that denies all the possibilities that a democracy offers to its citizens, starting with the instrument that voting represents.
Jihadism has benefited from two extraordinarily resonant inventions that these youths literally embody: the neo-martyr, this sacred death in the subjectivisation frenzy; and the neo-Umma, an agitated community that has never existed historically speaking, and that unsettled European youths are trying to achieve as a cure to their identity crisis.
A desire to die and to kill by totally dehumanizing those on whom they unleash their hatred is a phenomenon that dates back to the Iranian revolution of 1979 and that later spread into the Sunni Muslim world, fueled by humiliation and the thirst for revenge against the evil West. Whatâ€™s extraordinary is that this love of death is combined with enthusiasm for this neo-Umma, both macabre and jubilant, which becomes the focal point of youth angst. These are youths who killed other youths (for the most part) on Nov. 13, believing they were acting with divine legitimacy.
France combines several factors that makes its case look even worse to jihadists: Fanatics identify it as the "land of debauchery," the land of antireligious ideology and political ambition. France is also home to the largest Muslim community in Europe, an overwhelming majority of whom have nothing to do with extremism.
As for intelligence, security services and the police, theyâ€™re equipped to fight against a few hundred, but not against thousands of terrorists that can roam freely due to the free flow across borders. Theyâ€™re overwhelmed and flooded by the extension of this new form of terrorism. Europe must act quickly to match the jihadists' sense of unity and purpose, relying on the core structures of a federal system to fight terrorism. Otherwise, the destiny of Europe itself is on the line.
* Farhad Khosrokhavar is an French-Iranian sociologist, author of the 2014 book, Radicalization.
In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.
SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.
What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?
But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.
An appetite for gentrification
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.
In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.
This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.
Informal street vendors are casualties.
A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.
On paper, this all sounds great.
But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.
This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.
In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.
A call for food justice
Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.
It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.
In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.
Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.
Upending an existing foodscape
In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.
San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"
But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.
Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.
All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.
So what happens when new competitors come to town?
Starting at a disadvantage
As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.
My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"
San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.
When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
Going up against the urban food machine
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.
I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.
When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.
Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.
It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.
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