For­eign and do­mes­tic poli­cies now make France the ‘most threat­ened coun­try’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - TOM HENEGHAN

PARIS: Af­ter two mil­i­tant at­tacks in Paris killed 17 peo­ple in Jan­uary last year, Is­lamic State’s (IS) French-lan­guage mag­a­zine Dar al-Is­lam ap­peared with the Eif­fel Tower on the cover and the head­line “May Al­lah curse France”.

France was struck again in Novem­ber, with 130 dead in gun and bomb at­tacks in Paris and now in Nice, where at least 84 peo­ple were killed by a truck that ploughed through crowds af­ter a fire­works dis­play on Thurs­day evening.

“Ter­ror­ism... is a threat that weighs heav­ily on France and will con­tinue do­ing so for a long time,” Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls said yes­ter­day while vow­ing Paris would fight back.

France’s counter- ter­ror­ism chief, Pa­trick Cal­var, said as much to a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee last May, when the main fear was about se­cu­rity for the Euro 2016 foot­ball cham­pi­onship. In the end that tour­na­ment went off with­out any ma­jor in­ci­dent.

“To­day, France is clearly the most threat­ened coun­try,” the head of the Gen­eral Direc­torate for In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity ( DGSI) said. “The ques­tion about the threat is not to know ‘if ’ but ‘when’ and ‘where’.”

The rea­sons France is a prime tar­get for rad­i­cal Is­lamist groups range from its present-day mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions all the way to – at least in the IS’s pro­pa­ganda – the Cru­sades from the 11th to 15th cen­turies when Chris­tians bat­tled Mus­lims in the Mid­dle East.

The coun­try, which has Europe’s largest Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, also has a stead­fastly sec­u­lar cul­ture that side­lines reli­gion in pub­lic life, typ­i­fied by a ban on Is­lamic face veils in pub­lic and head­scarves in state schools and the civil ser­vice.

Sup­port­ers say this en­cour­ages a com­mon French iden­tity but crit­ics say it alien­ates non-Chris­tian mi­nori­ties, who see many ves­tiges of France’s tra­di­tional Catholi­cism – such as of­fi­cial hol­i­days for Christ­mas and Easter – but lit­tle lee­way for them.

Af­ter the Paris at­tacks, the IS said France and other coun­tries fight­ing along­side it would re­main threat­ened as long as they pur­sued “their cru­sader cam­paign” in Syria and Iraq. France con­ducts air strikes and spe­cial forces op­er­a­tions against the group and trains Iraqi gov­ern­ment and Kur­dish forces. In his re­ac­tion to the Nice at­tack, Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande vowed to step up those ef­forts against the IS.

“France is gripped by an ir­ra­tional and deaf ha­tred against Is­lam and Mus­lims that pushed it to the head of the coali­tion against the caliphate,” Dar al-Is­lam wrote last year, re­fer­ring to the ter­ri­tory con­trolled by the IS in Syria and Iraq.

Paris also has troops in west Africa, where it helps keep Is­lamist in­sur­gents at bay in sev­eral coun­tries. In 2011, it took a lead­ing role in the Nato-led air strikes against Libya while rebels it sup­ported fought to oust strong­man Muam­mar Gaddafi.

This ac­tive role in the Mid­dle East and Africa goes back to France’s past colo­nial role there and re­tal­i­a­tion at­tacks on French soil date at least to the Al­ge­rian War of 1954-1962.

With ro­bust poli­cies lim­it­ing the vis­i­bil­ity of reli­gion in the pub­lic sphere, France also has do­mes­tic poli­cies that anger Is­lamist mil­i­tants. Some in the five-mil­lion-strong Mus­lim com­mu­nity, about 8 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, com­plain of dis­crim­i­na­tion and many Mus­lims live in poorer neigh­bour­hoods in the large cities.

France’s long tra­di­tion of po­lit­i­cal satire, which ex­tends to lam­poon­ing reli­gion, was the rea­son Is­lamist mil­i­tants gave when they at­tacked an ed­i­to­rial meet­ing of the out­spo­ken mag­a­zine Char­lie Hebdo last year and killed 12 peo­ple. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: AP

The truck which slammed into rev­ellers late on Thurs­day, near the site of the at­tack in Nice.

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