France has paid an appalling price for its lax attitude to radical Islam and a clampdown on extremists is long overdue
President Macron’s government is finally taking a tough line on Islamist terrorism after a string of shocking incidents culminated in the beheading of a teacher. Why has it taken so long for it to take this problem seriously?
The headline on national broadcaster France 24 said it all: “French police raid dozens of targets suspected of extremism after teacher beheaded.” After. Teacher. Beheaded.
Surely, the French must be scratching their heads and wondering why these raids had been undertaken on suspected extremists after the decapitation in the street of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, and not before that gross affront to humanity?
It’s not as if there was any excuse needed by the authorities. All the signs that something might be brewing were right there.
After all, the trial of 14 accomplices of the three perpetrators of the mass murder of staff at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo began at the start of last month, and tensions were always likely to rise as answers were revealed about how three men wreaked such havoc in the French capital over a prolonged period before all being shot dead by police.
Al-Qaeda, the international terrorist organization behind so much murder and mayhem across the globe, even took the opportunity of the trial’s opening to reaffirm its threats against all those connected with Charlie Hebdo.
As expected, the publishers of the newspaper were undeterred and took the decision to reprint the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, which led to the 2015 Islamist assault that saw 17 people dead after two separate attacks over a three-day killing spree. That, in turn, sparked a wave of terrorism across France which left 250 people massacred.
Days after the trial began, an 18-year-old Pakistani-born man, unaware Charlie Hebdo had moved offices, attacked two employees from a TV production company with a meat cleaver outside the magazine’s former building. He admitted his attack was a response to the re-publication of the cartoons.
So, at the start of the trial, you have an international terrorist organization issuing threats, a few weeks later there is a meat cleaver attack by an enraged Islamist, and then last week we see the decapitation of an innocent teacher outside his school by a radicalized teenage Chechen shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’. And it’s only now that the overdue clampdown begins in France.
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While the authorities declare that some of those involved either directly or indirectly in the latest round of attacks were “known to the security services,” this admission just pours salt into the wounds and really does not make anyone feel reassured. They should stop making that announcement.
So the net has been cast far and wide. The government has taken the decision to shutter a Paris mosque whose leaders shared a video on social media calling for a fatwa against Samuel Paty, they’ve made a string of arrests over those allegedly involved in that atrocity, launched 80 investigations into online hate speech, planned the deportation of 213 foreigners on a government watchlist suspected of holding extremist religious beliefs – of which 150 are currently serving jail sentences – and announced a wide-ranging probe into the organization and funding of 51 associations within the Muslim community.
No doubt, all this is supposed to give the unmistakable impression that the French authorities are coming to terms with their Islamist problem and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has obligingly stepped up his rhetoric, saying, “The democracies got the better of Hitler, they will get the better of radical Islam.”
This invoking of World War II was catching as Marine Le Pen, leader of the Rassemblement National party, called for the government to introduce “war legislation” in the fight against the “bellicose ideology” of Islamism.
Meanwhile, President Macron has stepped even further away from the social liberal values he touted during his 2017 election campaign, showing signs of his intention to woo Le Pen’s right-wing supporters by denouncing Islamist “separatism” in a speech last month and now this week going full Schwarzenegger by declaring, “Islamists should not be able to sleep easy in our country. Fear is going to change sides.”
Tough talk indeed.
But retroactive deportations of known extremists, chasing down those who foment hate speech, or posthumous medals of honor to those murdered are not enough to rid France of the scourge of Islamism.
Actions talk louder than words, as any terrorist will tell you. Macron needs to come down much, much harder on those who seek to indoctrinate and radicalize, on those who fund extremism and those who look to divide French society.
Just as in the UK, where the inquiry into the Manchester Arena bombing continues to expose the jaw-dropping miscalculation of the havoc of which a single person is capable, France needs to revisit how it deals with the clamor from those initial alarm bells signaling something not quite right.
Otherwise, those whom the French task with protecting them will always be playing catch-up to the murderers and animals who slaughter innocent people in the street in the name of their sick and twisted ideology.
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