After the latest radical Islamic terrorist attack, the French are calling for more toughness in the fight against Islamism. President Emmanuel Macron is under pressure.
An Act of Terror to Intimidate Teachers and Free Speech
The “fatwa against a teacher,” as Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin puts it, led to the murder of history teacher Samuel Paty after he showed a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.
However, his killing was also intended to intimidate almost a million French teachers who face similar tensions and religion-related debates every day.
Although the brutal execution did not deliver the national unity that Macron had evoked on the evening of the attack, one can observe a noticeable turnaround in public opinion. The calls for more rigor in the fight against radical Islamism are getting louder.
French Right Demands “Arms Instead of Tears”
The conservative and far-right opposition accuses Macron of a lack of determination. The “politics of candles” must now be over, said Marine Le Pen, head of the right-wing populist Rassemblement National. “Arms instead of tears,” demanded Bruno Retailleau, who wants to position himself as a conservatives candidate for the 2022 presidential elections.
Even Macron himself chose a new tone of voice after the attack, saying “fear has to change sides.” He also added that “Islamists in our country will no longer sleep peacefully in the future.” After this declaration of war from the Élysée, the government must deliver now.
Turning Words into Action
A week ago French police launched a large-scale strike against suspected Islamist milieus, including 40 house searches. Interior Minister Darmanin himself stressed on the radio that the house searches were “not necessarily connected” to the fatwa against the teacher, but that they had a clear message: “Not a minute’s delay for the enemies of the republic.”
On Tuesday afternoon last week, Macron paid a demonstrative visit to the Bobigny Prefecture in the problematic neighborhood of Seine-Saint-Denis. There he asked about the strategy and successes in the fight against radical Islamism.
In the meantime, Darmanin announced the closure of the Pantin mosque which is located in a Paris suburb. The mosque’s imam is said to have distributed the video in which the father of one of the victim’s students called for violence.
Links to the Migration and Refugee Debate
France is politically divided when it comes to combining migration issues with the fight against terrorism. The last two perpetrators were immigrants, but most Islamic terrorism perpetrators in France in recent years were French citizens with Arab roots who grew up in France.
Interior Minister Darmanin has asked the Security Council to include migration and unaccompanied minors on the acute action plan. When he took office in July, he has requested the list of those who threatened Islam who do not have a regular residence permit. Allegedly it took weeks to get it. In addition, however, there are the usual problems with deportations, such as an OK from the home country, which traditionally proves to be complicated.
Darmanin also seeks to dissolve various organizations. These include the CCIF (Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France), an association that officially fights against Islamophobia in France but has been extremely successful in spreading the image of an Islamophobic France abroad.
Cracking Down on the ‘Uberization of Terrorism’
The latest attack made the role of social networks particularly evident. Experts speak of an “uberization of terrorism,” a relocation of terrorist networks to the Internet, with which the security authorities have not kept pace. The results are laws that do not address Islamic terror sufficiently. Despite the new laws that Macron announced a few weeks ago against radical Islam, there is now a controversial debate about how much rights France wants to give up in the fight against terror.
For his words and his strategy, Macron is now referred to in radical circles in France as the “enemy of Islam.” The Arabic-language television station Al Jazeera spoke of Macron’s “crusade” motivated by the French president taking advantage of Islam being “in a global crisis.” Moreover, the Islamic world is now calling for a boycott of French goods after Macron promised France would not renounce the caricatures of Mohammed.
Macron is thus feeling pressure from all sides. Parts of the public seek a zero-tolerance policy against Islam in France while others want a more tolerant approach; with the elections of 2022 looming, Macron will need to find a balance between civil liberties and the protection of the French people, who have suffered the violence of Islamism like no other European nation.