|Abstract||Recently, French Muslims have been seen by several media outlets and politicians to be increasingly influenced by some of the understandings of Islam generated in Saudi Arabia. While some connections do undoubtedly exist, I show that this is more the result of a globalization of beliefs, symbols and identities than with an explicit desire to make French Muslims embrace Salafism. More importantly, the influence of some forms of Islam originating in the Gulf within French society can be interpreted primarily as the result of a desire to identify with a non-French way of being Muslim. Analysing relations between certain French Muslims and Saudi Arabia highlights a fascination
for Salafism and a rejection of their home country's values. I argue that French Salafis are perpetuating an orientalist view of the Islamic world, with Saudi Arabia seen as a 'land of religious authenticity.' Essentialising identity, geography, and culture, this French Salafi orientalism represents an original way of conceptualising 'the Islamic East' today.
This contribution attempts to shed light on the nature of the relationship between French Salafi communities and the most prominent contemporary Gulf power, Saudi Arabia, which historically perceives itself as an 'authentic' and 'orthodox' centre for Muslims worldwide. Moreover, as we have been witnessing for decades the globalization of certain religious "codes" which raise fears of what might be termed a 'Gulf-banlieues continuum' with the potential to undermine French interests and identity, this is a timely effort to tackle the issue of how Saudi Arabia is perceived among French Salafi groups. In this piece, I will demonstrate that positive representations are at the heart of how Saudi Arabia is seen and valorised. The connection between French Salafis and this country can best be described as 'reverse Orientalism': Saudi Arabia is seen through the very interesting and original eyes of people who are part of the West whilst simultaneously rejecting it and identifying with Orientals. The Saudis are framed according to a very specific culturalist view, but ultimately are perceived as superior to the West. In the social interactions between the Salafi community, French society and youth culture, the East comes to function as much as a moral and conceptual category as a cultural and geographical reality. In essence, the East stands for what the West is not. Subject to this very specific understanding, Saudi Arabia is thus established as a place to be praised for having always been constructed on 'pure' Islamic principles