An Inclusive French Republic

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris prompted millions to take to the streets to show national solidarity and to pay tribute to the 17 people murdered. The attacks have also inspired a lot of soul-searching, as the French struggle to understand how three men, born and raised in France, could have trained the murderous intent of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State on their own countrymen. And the attacks have revealed a larger, existential threat to France: that its social compact may be torn apart by sectarian polarization.

The profiles of the three attackers — Amedy Coulibaly and the brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi — are an indictment of the decades-long failure of France to address long-festering alienation and exclusion among too many Muslim immigrants and their French-born children. Unemployment is as high as 40 percent among youths in France’s disadvantaged neighborhoods. All three attackers grew up in poverty. Chérif Kouachi and Mr. Coulibaly spent time in prison. All ultimately found deadly purpose in Islamist terrorism.

Prison was the crucible of their radicalization. There are five million to six million Muslims in France, less than 10 percent of the total population, but 60 percent of France’s prison inmates are of “Muslim culture or religion,” according to a report presented to France’s National Assembly. It was in prison that Mr. Kouachi and Mr. Coulibaly met the Qaeda recruiter Djamel Beghal. To stem recruiting by Islamist extremists in prisons, the government of President François Hollande has announced it will seek to isolate identified Islamist proselytizers from other prisoners.

There is also the problem of France’s secularism. A ban on head scarves in public schools and on full-face veils feels to many Muslims like an unfair constraint on their religious freedom. Some also find it hard to accept that blasphemy is not a crime in France, and that Charlie Hebdo and other publications have a right to satirize religious leaders. Some students in French schools with large immigrant and Muslim populations refused to participate in the national minute of silence following the Charlie Hebdo attack because they objected to what they had heard about the magazine’s depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

As of mid-December, 621 citizens and residents of France were running off to fight in Syria and Iraq or were already there, according to the government. Many of them are young and self-radicalized, having fallen prey to slick films — produced by the Islamic State and other jihadist groups and disseminated on social media — that glorify jihad as the ultimate rebellion against parental and societal expectations. The Hollande government has tried to deal with this phenomenon by passing a law that restricts travel abroad by would-be jihadists, but it must also use the current crisis to find engaging alternatives for people who might find refuge in the jihadist message.

French Muslims, who are as scared of terrorists as everybody else, also have to fear anti-Islam prejudice and attacks. There were 60 recorded threats and attacks against Muslims during the six days following the Jan. 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo. There is a real danger the right-wing National Front will seek political advantage by fueling anti-Muslim hysteria.

At a visit to the Institut du Monde Arabe on Thursday, President Hollande assured France’s Muslims that hate crimes would be punished and that the government would protect Muslims, as it would all French citizens. France’s minister of education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who is French-Moroccan, is to announce new measures on Monday to better explain French “republican values” in the schools. For the lesson to work, the Hollande government must find ways to make those values a reality for the many French youths who feel marginalized from French society.