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In this Hannity interview on Fox News on 9 January, 2015, American author Robert Spencer said that:

So in France they have set up - the French government lists on a public web-site -751 no-go areas, where essentially the police have no authority, the French state has no authority and Islamic law prevails

Are there such regions listed by the French government?

I had a hard time finding official data regarding this issue.

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    Other people echo the claim. Wikipedia offers a different perspective, but can't be relied on. Any French-speakers want to research this one? – Oddthinking Jan 11 '15 at 14:04
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    @Oddthinking Both of your links are the same; the second is not a wiki link. – cpast Jan 11 '15 at 16:20
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    It's like taking the list of poorest neighborhoods in the US and say islamic law prevail there. Crazy. – Nikko Jan 11 '15 at 16:38
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    @Oddthinking: note that the person who "echoed the claim" in your link originally wrote the article in 2006 and in 2013 added an update where, after actually visiting some of those areas, he "regrets having called these areas no-go zones" since he found them "very mild, even dull" compared to American inner-city crime hotspots. – Michael Borgwardt Jan 12 '15 at 14:25
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    These absurd claims are related: BBC: Apology for 'Muslim Birmingham' Fox News claim "An American terrorism commentator has apologised for describing Birmingham as a "Muslim-only city" where non-Muslims "don't go" during a Fox News interview. Steven Emerson told the channel that in London "Muslim religious police" beat "anyone who doesn't dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire". – A E Jan 12 '15 at 14:34
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TL;DR: Those regions are poor areas considered as priority for public help by the French government to reduce inequalities. It has nothing to do with Islamic law or police patrols.

I'm a French citizen.

So what are the ZUS (Zone Urbaine Sensible)?

They are sensitive urban areas where the French government wants the local politics to put in effort. Those are poor neighborhoods and they are classified as ZUS, to encourage companies to settle into those areas - e.g. by offering tax breaks.

The ZUS areas were created by the law Loi no 95-115 du 4 février 1995.

Article 2:

Les zones urbaines sensibles sont caractérisées par la présence de grands ensembles ou de quartiers d'habitat dégradé et par un déséquilibre accentué entre l'habitat et l'emploi.

Roughly translated in English:

The ZUS (Sensitive Urban Area) are characterized by the presence of large housing estates or deteriorated residential areas and an accentuated imbalance between housing and employment

So, in the official texts, these zones have nothing to do with Islam or police.

There is an official French organization that observes the ZUS: ONZUS (National Observatory for ZUS areas).

Regular reports are provided on different subjects concerning ZUS; for instance, here (French text).

I found on the ONZUS site a report on life in the ZUS: Portrait statistique des zones urbaines sensibles (ZUS statistical portraits).

Here is my summary list of key topics that are discussed in this report

  • Une ségrégation touchant d’abord les immigrés d’Afrique
  • Une mobilité résidentielle importante
  • Un parc de logements sociaux ancien
  • Une surreprésentation des familles nombreuses et monoparentales
  • Un taux de chômage deux fois plus important en ZUS
  • Une population plus jeune et des revenus très modestes
  • Persistance et reproduction des inégalités scolaires

English translation:

  • Segregation primarily affecting the immigrants from Africa
  • Important amounts of residential mobility
  • Aging social (i.e. subsidized or low-rent) housing
  • An above-average number of large and single-parent families
  • Twice as much unemployment in the ZUS than in other areas
  • Younger population and very modest incomes
  • Persistence and reproduction of educational inequalities

I think this is a good summary of life in the ZUS. Note that there is no "Islamic law" mentioned. It's not something important or characteristic of the ZUS.

Of course, someone could argue this is a political view and maybe someone with other political views would create another report. But I think these reports are made by honest researchers.

There are a lot of classified areas like these in France. For instance:

  • ZRR: "Zone de revitalisation rurale" (rural revitalizing areas) for poor agricultural areas in the country. (No islamic law there also.)

  • ZEP: "Zone d'éducation prioritaire" (priority education area) for schools that are in poor neighborhoods and may need extra money. (Yes, they are often located inside ZUS)

For reference, here is a list of ZUS from the French government.

One example of a ZRU (a sub-category of ZUS) from that list is La Reynerie/Bellefontaine.

Haute Garonne (31) Toulouse La Reynerie, Bellefontaine. ZRU

It's a poor neighborhood with a lot of immigrants, a majority of them from North-Africa.

On the map of this area from the French Government, you can see the Université (University), and Col Ec. (junior high school) and Ec. (school) which are in France the symbol of the french republic laws and the french state.

On the Google Map of the area, you can see Témoins de Jéhovah: Jehovah witness building, which is evidence that Islamic law does not apply in the area.

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    I deleted a lot of discussion about the difficulties in providing references for this answer, now that the OP has done a good job in providing references for this answer. – Oddthinking Jan 13 '15 at 0:26
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    @ChrisW Actually these areas were diagnosed as "Priority Security Zones" to increase police's presence and means. You can find what French government officially says about these areas in this document (in french): interieur.gouv.fr/content/download/36620/276911/file/… The main idea is there is more insecurity in them compared to other areas, and that police should have better means to fight against it (page 2). – Einenlum Jan 13 '15 at 10:22
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    @Einenlum I can see what they are (I read French). My thought was that "official no-go zone" is obviously false and stupid so an answer which only answer that is uninformative i.e. boring; and that it would be better (more informative / interesting) answer if it also addressed whether (or to what extent) there are any "unofficial no-go zones, where for example the police do not or dare not try to operate. – ChrisW Jan 13 '15 at 10:29
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    @ChrisW: at any rate it could usefully address whether there are 751 such unofficial no-go zones. It might take a lot of reference to different local police statistics, but if they report patrolling, visiting crime scenes, making arrests, etc, within significant numbers of the ZUS, then clearly they are not (all) even unofficial no-go zones. – Steve Jessop Jan 13 '15 at 13:08
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    Does "Une ségrégation touchant d’abord les immigrés d’Afrique" really translate to "Segregation touches first immigrants from Africa" I would rather write "Segregation primarily concerns immigrants from Africa"? – mbschenkel Jan 14 '15 at 17:25
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I looked down the list

Atlas des Zones urbaines sensibles (Zus)

A lot of those places you could walk around if you wanted to. Fire crews would probably need to be accompanied by the police in some of them if they were to attend a fire. In a number, such as the quartiers nord of Marseille only reinforced police units would be safe entering but they are not total no go areas.

Here is a TV documentary (in French) about policing in the quartiers nord.

So you can see there is an active but ad-hoc police presence.

In this article, "A Marseille, en patrouille avec les renforts de Manuel Valls", you can read that the French state wants to "reestablish French republic order" in the quartiers nord; implying that there is an issue with the writ of the French state in some sectors. And l'Express talks of police free zones with the new right wing Mayor of the 7th district saying that Marseille city hall refuses foot patrols in the senstive areas.

-- edited May 2015

I found this passage written by a civil servant6 recounting his time working for Nicolas Sarkozy. The quote is from Au Coeur du Volcan if you want to go and read it.5 Here a public servant clearly states that parts of Seine St Denis are a No Go Zone for the authorities. Now that's not the 751 Zep mentioned by the Americans but one can imagine that there are other Seine St Denis in France. Given the date it should be possible to identify the prefect, it could be Claude Baland or Nacer Meddah or more likely Christian Lambert.

It was the bi-weekly meeting of the security chiefs. Sarkozy paced the room, frowning, you could feel the storm approaching. "Where are we with drug dealers in St Denis", he asked the prefect. "We need to take back control of the apartment blocks, one by one, make it impossible for the dealers to operate. A guy driving round in a new BMW 7 series, well the tax authorities should be asking where the money is coming from. I'm controlled all the time by the IRS, they say its for my protection." "Yeah, you must be one of the most protected people in the country", chuckled the interior minister.

The prefect hemmed and hawed "it's not easy, the place is full of illegals, squats, slums and shanty towns everywhere, its the third world, it is almost impossible to operate down there, it is a no go zone for the authorities, totally chaotic. When we do arrest an illegal the courts release them". Another minister interjected "it is impossible to send anyone back, we know where they come from but we can't get visas from their embassies, they don't want them, without a visa we can't put them on a plane."

-- Note (see Chris' comment below). This comment makes no claims about religious affiliations, it is just a claim made about no go zones on France to illustrate that even the French authorities make such claims at times.

-- edited November 2016

The term "no go zone" or "une zone de non-droit"7 is being used more frequently in France now following the Bataclan and Nice attacks and in particular after the attack at the Crossroads of Viry-Châtillon in the suburbs of Paris. The Viry-Châtillon attack has left a policeman in a very serious condition after a patrol had their cars firebombed. The point of contention is a crossroads that is under the control of gangs who charge motorists a "toll" to pass through. Apparently the gangs have controlled the crossroads for 3 years without the police being able to reestablish order. It is effectively a no-go zone for normal policing and people. The attack has led to demonstrations by the police throughout France, they claim that the justice system doesn't take gang crime seriously. Even French President Hollande has joined the debate accusing judges of "cowardice" and "hiding" by "playing the virtuous"; although he later backed down8.

-- edited November 2018 --

The French government, having long denied there was a problem of no-go zones in France has now made la Reconquête Républicaine official government policy9. In his resignation speech former interior minister Gerard Collomb warned that in certain areas of France

"the situation is very bad, yes, today, it is really the law of the jungle, traffikers and radical islamists have replaced the French republic"11

More seriously he foresees France slipping into civil war, this is what he told a journalist recently:

The situation in France "is very worrying, what I read each morning in notes from the police reflects a very pessimistic situation. The relationship between people is very tough, no one wants to live together."

Journalist "the new law on immigration only tackles illegal immigration, there are more than 200,000 legal migrants a year coming to France"

"Yes it is true, we are going step by step but that is a problem, we don't need any more immigration in France. The communities are confronting each other more and more and it is getting very violent, there is a risk of partition, I don't want to worry people but there is little time left, it is hard to say but within five years we'll be beyond the point of no return, afterwards...."10

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    I find that content/answer interesting; but it's a pity that you didn't find more highly-regarded (reputable) media sources, and/or left-wing as well as right-wing sources. Has there ever been anything in Le Monde, for example, that corroborates what you said in this answer? – ChrisW Jan 13 '15 at 10:42
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    I hadn't approached the question from a left vs. right perspective. Here is an article from lemonde where Eugène Caselli demands that the whole of Marseille needs to be classed as a zone de sécurité prioritaire saying that parts of Marseille "could" become a no-gone zone for the state. Ok we're not there at the moment according to Mr Caselli but it shows that the question transcends politics to some extent. – DavidG Jan 14 '15 at 15:46
  • I found that quote from Manual Valls here: "Nous avons besoin, au moment où les forces de l’ordre, policiers et gendarmes, sont aussi victimes de mortiers, de tirs, ..." and I thought, "F'*'ck! Mortars?" So I looked further and found this which clarifies that by "mortars" they mean ... – ChrisW Jan 16 '15 at 15:23
  • ... indirect fire using firework launcher. Well, that's not good and policeman were injured, but I don't think that the "writ of the French state" has too much of an issue. – ChrisW Jan 16 '15 at 15:24
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    No I'm merely commenting on the No Go Zone claim but not on the Islamic law claim. I've edited the answer above to take into account your comment. – DavidG May 9 '15 at 14:13
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Here's a very straightforward reference: The French penal law. Specifically, Article 113-2 makes this law applicable to the full territory of the French republic. And of course it does not employ that thieves get their hands cut off etc. (cf. Article 131). As a consequence the French state must act against any attempts to install islamic law.

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    However, this is a nice theory. The reality may be different, and that's the purpose of this question: to reveal the reality. – yo' Jan 12 '15 at 17:14
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    @yo': The claim is that the government has explicitly excluded some territories from its legal control. If this law states that all territories are subject to the control of the penal code, doesn't that answer the question? – Oddthinking Jan 13 '15 at 15:05
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    @Oddthinking Yep, that was what I was meaning. I was just pointing out that there may be a difference between the legal status (government controlled with no doubt) and the true status (maybe government controlled or maybe controlled by who-knows-who). – yo' Jan 13 '15 at 15:06
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    A nice theory indeed. I know of some neighborhood in Strasbourg where a friend got "attacked" (they basically stole his wallet and punched him). When he went to the police, they replied by "We don't go there. Your safest best is to buy a baseball or something". I would assume the cops to still go there in case of a "major event" of course, but you can already see how the law doesn't apply the same way everywhere. – ereOn Jan 14 '15 at 18:33
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    @ereOn There's a difference between the local police being a bunch of "cowards" (though possibly understandably so) and a presumed official website listing 751 specific no-go areas. Minor crimes, ranging from pickpocketing over bicyle theft to vandalism or getting mugged (the extent depending on how common they are) are probably ignored or just taken to the files in many jurisdictions because the probability of success is so low ... – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 14 '15 at 23:04
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It has been stated as false by Snopes for United States, France, and Britain. Steven Emerson, who spread such a rumour about Birmingham, have apologized for it.BBC

The French embassy stated that

"Of course it is not true to say that there are no-go areas in France. To give you an idea of how wide of the mark those comments are, we could compare them to those by the American journalist who recently said that non-Muslims simply did not go any longer to Birmingham: in both cases those statements are obviously totally untrue."(The Guardian)

enter image description here
Central Toulouse Bellefontaine one of the alleged no-go areas in France.

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Fox News, who originally broadcast the claim, and Steve Emerson, who made these claims on Hannity, have retracted and apologised for the claims, explaining they are in error.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

Fox was abject in its apologies, as was Emerson. Julie Banderas, a Fox anchor, said that "over the course of this last week, we have made some regrettable errors on air regarding the Muslim population in Europe, particularly with regard to England and France."

"Now this applies especially to discussions of so-called no-go zones, areas where non-Muslims allegedly are not allowed in and police supposedly won't go," Banderas continued. "To be clear, there is no formal designation of these zones in either country and no credible information to support the assertion that there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals based solely on their religion."

Apologies were issued on-air three other times.

I haven't been able to reconcile where Robert Spencer, as opposed to Steve Emerson, comes into this, and the original link is no longer working to double-check that I got that detail right while editing the question.

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    Steve Emerson made comments on Fox re Birmingham, England. Robert Spencer was the person making the comments re France see the link in my answer for a recording of the Fox apology – user151019 Jan 22 '15 at 17:50
  • Thanks, @Mark. I'm wondering if it would be better to copy my link and quote into your answer, and delete this one. – Oddthinking Jan 23 '15 at 3:06
  • Up to you - my answer gives direct refutations including an explanation of where the areas came from (which is also in other answers) but you have the detailed FOX refute if you ad the video - best would be a Fox news website quote – user151019 Jan 23 '15 at 10:26
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As others say the regions are poor regions which the French government has identified as needing more help.

The Independent newspaper has an article in English covering the French satirical TV show Le Petit Journal response to this,

This includes reporters going to some of the areas and interviewing people

and re the zones

The show’s host Yann Barthès also noted the map used by Fox was taken from the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Statistics and the areas were urban zones identified for social development rather than “no-go zones”. “It has nothing, I repeat, nothing to do with security, religion or whatever bulls**t Fox says.”

and FOX news have apologised for the errors

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