In the wake of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper based in Paris, much has been discussed in the media about Muslim “no-go” zones in France and Great Britain. In these supposed zones, where local police dare not enter, Islamic radicals have allegedly established enclaves and are enforcing their own Islamic Sharia law. Debate has raged over the last couple of weeks as several news outlets such as Fox News and CNN as well as prominent US politicians have attempted to shed light on these zones.
Fox News’ terrorism expert Steven Emerson ran a story claiming the existence of these zones stating that the host nations in Europe “don’t exercise any sovereignty” in these immigrant-controlled areas. Chris Cuomo of CNN also acknowledged their existence stating “problems of policing, problems with dis-enfranchisement.” Even Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has joined in on the conversation. He recently went as far as to say “How does such evil rise again in democratic countries? I believe it is because radical Islamists have been given too wide a berth to establish their own nation within a nation. In America we are quite happy to welcome freedom-loving people, regardless of religion, who want to abide by our laws allowing for freedom of expression and a host of other democratic freedoms. But we will never allow for any sect of people to set up their own areas where they establish their own set of laws,” according to USA Today.
These claims, however, are unsubstantiated at best. Emerson has since apologized for his statements saying that his comments were in error and CNN has retracted its statements as well.
Despite these apologies the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has said that she will sue Fox News for the inaccurate reports that she believes tarnished the image of her city. Even British Prime Minister, David Cameron ripped Emerson (in true Brit fashion) stating, “When I heard this, frankly, I choked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fools’ Day. This guy’s clearly a complete idiot.”
The lack of evidence coupled with the backlash from foreign leaders makes it tough to support any claims of no-go zones at this time. The question begs, though, as to how these rumors gained traction in American news outlets in the first place?
To answer, one can look at the current state of the suburbs in Paris. The city itself has identified 751 “zones urbaines sensibles,” or “sensitive urban zones.” These areas are defined as containing high unemployment, high rates of public housing, low educational levels, low socioeconomic status and, perhaps most importantly, a high amount of Muslim immigrants as reported by The Atlantic.
These areas aren’t all that different from urban areas in the United States. Lower socioeconomic, minority heavy areas are common throughout the country and are usually associated with higher crime rates, according to a 2011 FBI uniform crime report. Any law enforcement officer would be wary and apprehensive about going into an area fraught with crime, regardless of the ethnic or religious background of its inhabitants. It is easy to see how a false correlation could be made between the status of these sensitive urban zones and the existence of outright no-go zones.
Another phenomenon that could be a cause for confusion is the claimed presence of Sharia law. As aforementioned, some think that these factions of Muslim people abide by and enforce these laws, eschewing the democratic laws of the land. In reality, there are many jurisdictions throughout the world, including here in the United States, that allow certain matters to be decided by a Sharia judge provided both parties agree. However, these judges aren’t exactly dealing with high profile cases. Instead they usually intervene on civil matters such as family law and business disputes, according to BBC News. The punishments that are handed out must fall under the laws of their local governments, preventing anything unfair or unusual from occurring.
These types of independent courts are nothing new and have existed in the United Kingdom for decades. Even more interesting is that they are not specific to the Muslim religion. British Jews have long turned to their own religious courts called the Beth Din. These courts, just like their Muslim counterparts, are voluntary and must be agreed upon by both parties. English law allows for third parties to arbitrate in a dispute between two sides so the fact that this third party is of religious influence, assuming that it is consented by all involved, should be no cause for alarm.
In the end it appears that these claims made in the press about no-go zones are nothing more than an overreaction. The proprietors of these rumors are guilty of ignorant exaggeration as opposed to outright slander. However, the consequence of their errors can be far reaching as journalism has a way of catching hold and influencing people’s opinions, regardless of its validity. The negative connotations can also have detrimental effects on the areas in causing people to fear and avoid them unnecessarily. Next time, they may benefit from digging a little deeper into laws and customs of the nations they are criticizing before doing so.
Ryan Clabaugh can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org