Thinking Aloud: La Dissatisfaction

Sept. 4, 2014 by Darius 

A poll published recently found that 16% of French citizens had a positive opinion of ISIS, the terrorist group that controls large swaths of Syria and Iraq.  Among French respondents ages 18-24 that number spiked to 27%.  What’s going on?

It’s tempting to dismiss this result as a product of anger in the Muslim immigrant community in France, as some analysts have done.  On closer inspection, though, that explanation just doesn’t hold up: the entire Muslim population of France only amounts to about 7% of the population.  Even if every Muslim respondent had a positive opinion of ISIS, which is highly unlikely, that means 10% of French citizens who are not Muslim also expressed support for ISIS.

The most plausible explanation for ISIS’s high level of support in France: complete disgust with the powers that be.

In another poll published at about the same time, French president François Hollande had a dismal 18% approval rating.  In other words, a lot of French people are very unhappy with a lot of things.  In Germany, by contrast, which has Europe’s second largest Muslim population (after France), only 3-4% of respondents expressed support for ISIS.  Likewise, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel recently scored her highest approval rating ever, 74%.  In short, most Germans approve of the way things are being handled.

One of ISIS’s main goals is to break down the international system largely imposed on the Middle East by non-Middle Eastern powers.  That goal, at least, may find some traction with non-Muslims, non-Arabs, and people outside the Middle East entirely.  In a sense, ISIS is “sticking it to the man” in the grandest fashion possible.

While it is important to note that the ISIS poll was conducted before ISIS beheaded American journalist James Foley, ISIS was already busy executing prisoners, kidnapping women, and exterminating religious minorities.  It’s inconceivable that 16% of French people support these activities.  But it’s not inconceivable that 16% of French people are angry, frustrated, and support sticking it to the man.  Perhaps this should also be a topic on the NATO agenda this week.

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