02:36 GMT30 November 2020
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    On Thursday, a brutal assault on parishioners of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice shook a French society already traumatised by the beheading of a French teacher in the northern Paris suburb of Éragny earlier this month. European politicians and academics have discussed EU migrant policies and the need to protect core European values.

    The suspect behind the Nice attack is believed to be a 21-year old Tunisian national named Brahim Aioussaoi, who arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa by boat on 20 September. He is said to have repeatedly shouted "Allah Akbar" when law enforcement officers arrived at the scene. At present, the attacker is in critical condition at a local hospital after being shot by police. Two knives, two phones, and a copy of the Koran were reportedly found in a bag belonging to him.

    'Asymmetric, Treacherous, and Hidden War'

    "These terrorist attacks go one after another... Enough is enough! We have pursued an 'ostrich policy' for too long, hiding our heads in the sand and hoping that another terrorist attack will be the last one", says Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, a member of the French Senate from the Republicans Party.

    The French senator laments the fact that the French government has fallen short of fighting illegal immigration for many years while giving out citizenship indiscriminately even to those who did not accept French values.

    "We have to start all over again", she says. "It's useless to keep organising candlelight vigils and making emotional statements".

    The politician denounced the "asymmetric, treacherous, and hidden war" waged by Islamic terrorism. According to the senator, who is a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, "some countries do not understand the risk that exists in France today".

    "While we still don't know much about the attacks for the time being, it seems that France and the French people are getting closer to the point where there will be a fundamental change of attitude towards the terror acts committed on French territory", deems Fernand Kartheiser, Luxembourg Parliament member for the Alternative Democratic Reform Party.

    The decapitation of an 85-year-old Catholic priest in July 2016, the beheading of Samuel Paty just two weeks ago, and now the assassination of ordinary churchgoers "show that there is no other alternative than to address the issues of Islam and of integration", according to the parliamentarian.

    "The French have to insist on full integration and cannot tolerate any more Islamic parallel societies, especially in the 'faubourgs', the suburbs of the larger cities. Also, the issue of the largely uncontrolled immigration wave into Europe has to be addressed", he says, adding that French President Emmanuel Macron seems to understand "it is not enough anymore to mourn the victims and to show some superficial solidarity".

    A nun prays in front of candles and flowers left in tribute to the victims of a deadly knife attack at the Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 30, 2020.
    A nun prays in front of candles and flowers left in tribute to the victims of a deadly knife attack at the Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 30, 2020.

    The French Need to Protect Republican Values

    The unfolding situation has all the earmarks of a "civil war", which is the result of incompetence, lack of culture, and cowardice of the French political class over the past forty years, argues Philippe de Villiers, the ex-head of the Movement for France (MPF) and former French presidential candidate.

    "We should not provide trump cards to jihadists", echoes Michel Larive, a French politician who represents La France Insoumise ("Unbowed France") in the National Assembly. "They want us to be split and the unity of our Republican society to crumble. In no case should you give them such pleasure!"

    He calls on "everyone to show responsibility", specifying that his party will support any government initiative to unite the nation.

    For his part, Ehsan Jami, a Dutch politician from the conservative party "Liveable Rotterdam" believes that the French and Europeans in general should jointly demonstrate their commitment to free speech and expression: "We should stand firmly behind our values and the freedom of speech", he stresses. "We have a common goal: end Islamic terrorism. This problem transcends our differences. We all want safety and security for our family and loved ones".

    Security forces guard the area after a reported knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 29, 2020
    Security forces guard the area after a reported knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 29, 2020

    'Hostile Rhetoric Will Take Us Nowhere, a Dialogue is Needed'

    However, some observers have expressed concerns about President Macron's bid to fight Islamism simultaneously on several fronts while having no legal, police, or military means to protect French citizens from the consequences of his policies, especially given the massive influx of predominantly Muslim refugees from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe over the last five years.

    François Asselineau, the chair of the Popular Republican Union, points out that the same people who encouraged and endorsed France's open-door policies now want to protect freedom of speech by demonstrating the cartoons overtly insulting the country's Muslims. According to the politician, this is not the way to win the hearts and minds of France's Muslim community. "Whether you like it or not it won't change the Muslims who are for the most part very strongly attached to the personality of their prophet", he says.

    While the incidents in France are sad and there is no justification for these heinous crimes, it appears that Paris is not solving them properly, which may lead to problems in the future as well, opines Dr Stig Jarle Hansen, associate professor at the Norwegian University of Life Science and expert specialising in Islamism.

    "The French government chooses a confrontational line, partly because of French traditions, and launches hostile rhetoric against political involvement inspired by religion, and clams about Islam in general, that serves to alienate the Muslim communities", he suggests.

    While France appears to have failed to fully integrate its Muslim and immigrant population, the combination of poverty and relatively hostile rhetoric against religion will have a largely destructive potential down the road, especially if combined with high immigration rates before these problems are solved, according to the professor.

    "One cannot help suspect that such rhetoric could be a tool to cover up French weaknesses in intelligence and policing capacities", Hansen says. "The current situation with 'whataboutsm', increasingly hostile rhetoric will take us nowhere. This should be combined with surveillance and police work targeting groups that openly endorse violence, but a better dialogue with members of the Islamic community that could be potential allies could make this easier".

    At the same time, the academic emphasises the necessity of creating a general module on political cartoons that can be taught to all French children and create an understanding of how cartoons cannot be met with violence.

    French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the media during the visit to the scene of a knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France October 29, 2020
    French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the media during the visit to the scene of a knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France October 29, 2020
    Charlie Hebdo & Macron's Bid to Fight Islamism

    Tensions started escalating in late September when satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad amid the trial of 14 suspects involved in the deadly 2015 attack on the magazine's premises. Depictions of the Islamic prophet are seen as blasphemy and insulting by Muslims.

    On 2 October, Macron outlined a new law aimed at combating religious "separatism" and freeing Islam in France from "foreign influences". He also stated that Islam is "in crisis all over the world today". In accordance with the new rules rolled out by the French president, all Islamic organisations receiving funding from the French state will have to sign a "secular charter", while associations found to be propagating ideals contrary to those of the French republic will be ordered to disband.

    Following the beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty for showing his students the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, Macron doubled down on criticising "radical Islam" and intolerance, prompting a wave of criticism and protests in predominantly Muslim countries around the world.


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    Islamism, Emmanuel Macron, Islam, refugees, Muslims, terror attack, stabbing, Nice, France
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