Islamist terrorism and its impact on French society – HOPE not hate
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Islamist terrorism and its impact on French society

By René Monzat

France has been blitzed by major Islamist terror attacks – with multiple losses of life – on four occasions in the past five years.

The bloody toll of death in this onslaught is as follows:

11-22 March 2012 – Toulouse and Montauban – 7 shot dead

7-9 January 2015 – Île de France – 17 shot dead at Charlie Hebdo magazine and at a kosher supermarket

13-14 November 2015 – Paris – 130 killed in shootings, hostage taking and suicide bombing

14 July 2016 – Nice – 86 killed in vehicle ramming of pedestrians

Inevitably the grim death toll resulting from these murderous activities and the relentless society-wide fear they have generated has result in loud demands – from across the political spectrum – for harsher security measures and varying degrees of a crackdown on the Muslim population.

The impact of the various terrorist episodes has played intensely on short-term opinion but does not seem to have reversed the long-term evolution of the French society towards more tolerance.

SP slides towards authoritarianism

Laws regulating immigration in France have already been modified several dozen times in recent in a generalised beefing up of regulations.

Inevitably, however, the wave of terror attacks has directly sparked tougher security laws as part of a government-installed state of emergency after the attacks multiplied the security measures.

The effectiveness of these measures is not easy to demonstrate. More than 3,800 house searches and raids led to just nine prosecutions for terrorism and 27 for supporting it.
Demonstrations, however, continued to flourish, and Paris was the scene of the most massive clashes in decades in protests against the reform of the labour laws.

On 14 July 2016, at midday on the occasion of the national holiday, Bastille Day, President François Hollande announced that the state of emergency (which had been extended three times since 2015) would not be renewed. “We can not eternally prolong the state of emergency. We now have a law to act against terrorism,” he said.

The same evening in Nice, an attack killed 86 people and dozens of wounded among the crowd who came to witness the holiday fireworks, prompting the government to resort anew to a measure … that had just demonstrated its radical inefficiency.

The abortive attempt to “constitutionalise” deprivation of nationality in the wake of the terrorism led to a divorce between human rights organisations associations and the government, destroying a long-time secular symbiosis between these associations and the socialists.

The extension of the state of emergency was criticised by the Constitutional Council and – four times – by the Council of State, France’s highest administrative jurisdiction.

The easing of conditions for the use of weapons by the police was lashed as the provision of a “license to kill” by associations of families of the victims of police crime and also criticised by the “Defender of Rights”, a state organisation, the Bar Association, the Judicial Union and the League of Human Rights among others.

A comic book, The President, a political fiction best seller by Farid Boudjellal and François Durpaire, describes an imagined authoritarian seizure of power by Marine Le Pen.

The content of the book shows the implementation of  “exceptional measures” by the Le Pen regime, their legal basis being the laws adopted in recent years at the behest of the Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls.

Parliament has rubber-stamped the battery of post-attack security measures easily with clear majorities, often understanding them more as reassuring signals to voters more than for their supposed effectiveness.

As a result, the debates have given rise to multiple – my proposals are tougher than yours – overbidding; either security (internment or expulsion of the “S files”, persons who are the subject of simple dossiers by the intelligence services) or direct religious discrimination (expulsion of veiled Muslim students from universities, public places and whole categories of employment, knowing that the ban on the wearing of the veil in the public office already has consensus backing in France.

In each political family in France, there are numerous identities and people who are attentive to the risks of religious discrimination.

Thus, on the right, presidential candidate Francois Fillon has adopted an objectively Islamophobic approach to radical Islamism and demands the immediate dissolution of all the movements like Salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood, while his rival at the primary of the right Alain Juppé, forged an alliance with the Imam of his city, one of the main cadres of the UOIF, which is considered close to the Muslim Brotherhood!

Among the liberal “progressives”, former premier Manuel Valls says: “Of course, there is economy and unemployment, but the main things are the cultural and identity battles.”

The different currents of the French Communist Party are divided on these subjects, as are the Trotskyists, the anarchists, feminist organisations, freemasonry and so on.

Terrorism not reversing the trend towards tolerance

The CNCDH National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), is a state body that independent advises the government and in the field of human rights. It has developed, and uses every year, a synthetic index of tolerance.

Derived from a set of carefully selected questions asked by survey, this composite index measures the degree of tolerance shown by the French vis-à-vis those who are “different” from an ethnic or religious point of view as well as their views on immigration or multiculturalism.

Examining variations in the index over several decades gives important pointers.

After four consecutive years of decline, stopped in 2014, the longitudinal tolerance index in France, ranging from 0 to 100, marks a clear increase towards more tolerance (+10 points since 2013), valid for all groups that seem to be better accepted.

The CNCDH comments: “It is not least surprising to note that the context is apparently not conducive to the acceptance of the other (terrorism, migrant arrivals, unemployment, the weight of security themes in the media, certain political positions etc.