[eng] Saint-Étienne du Rouvray and simplistic answers

Article published on Feb. 27, 2017
Article published on Feb. 27, 2017

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

There are no simple answers when it comes to complex issues. This article doesn't intend to explain anything but only to bring about more cautious thoughts compared to what's imposed upon us by the relentless flow of information on the latest attacks in France.

Many people only found out about Saint-Étienne du Rouvray a week ago. The major part of our readers most likely never even went there, nor in this simple and discreet church located in one of the most common places of beautiful Normandy. But to me, this little place, now forever marked by the scar of terror, is one of the most special places in Earth. There, barely 200 meters from the church, was were I first ended up living in France. This was my home. This is where I read Flaubert, Corneille and Molière in the original version. A magical place because my father had been there before me. There I got the chance to meet my second family: Juan and Angelita; and there, in this house in Rue de Paris, is where I desperately kept on calling on the morning of July 26th.

A few hours after Adel Kermiche and Abel Malik Petitjean came into the church and slit Father Jacques Hamel's throat, I talked to one of my friends. She had just become a mother and she grew up next to this church which for many people is only another scene of horror (we are starting to get immune to it). More than upset with Hollande she said she wanted to go to the Mayor's office and tell him "he's not protecting us at all". "Maybe if Hollande stopped attacking them, there would be less massacres", she added before concluding with this frightening sentence: “Everyone should go to war, not only France”.

The people of France faced with terrorist attacks

My friend is not the only one to think like that. According to Ifop (French institute for public opinion surveys), 65% of the French believe the terrorist threat is very high and 55% believe France is now at war. The survey was carried out on the day following the attack in Saint-Étienne du Rouvray, twelve days after the attack in Nice. 58% of the respondents said terrorism was their main concern while 74% were in favor of every person with a “S”file (S is a one of the categories if police records that includes all issues regarding national security) being arrested and put into jail "because the State should not take any risk right now”.

On the other hand, 63% of the respondents still believes only radical islamists represent a threat, not all muslims, unlike the 33% considering that Islam itself is a threat. When it comes to how should French muslims behave, 21% believes muslims are already condemning terrorism and radical islam enough, 58% thinkthey should condemn it even more and 21% believe they don't have to express an opinion on the matter since Daesh has nothing to do with them.

Political reaction

On the day after Father Hamel was assasinated, Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president, was interviewed by Le Monde asking for an intensification of the anti-terrorist measures. “This new drama demonstrates how much we have to change our way to respond to islamic terrorism. I can't accept out-of-date schemes and plans being applied to today's situation", he said. The government's response also came in an interview. Prime Minister Manuel Valls told Sarkozy: “my government will not be a French Guantanamo”.

Increase in racism

Water has flowed under the bridge since Tahar Ben Jelloum wrote this literature gem Le racisme expliqué à ma fille (racism explained to my daughter) in which he tried to answer littel Mérième's questions during the movement to oppose the Debré Act (1998), particularly discriminatory to foreigners and foreign families living in France. But this question is more relevant than ever: a 24-year-old Black young boy died during its detention at a police station in Beaumont-sur-Oise; employment, including public employment, is still difficult for the inhabitants of underpriviledged areas; there were attacks against Arabs in Nice, whether muslim or not, after the attack. We impassively witnessed the trivialization of racists and heinous speeches on the internet, among other things.

And yet, they're French

Last week, arab culture expert Emilio González Ferrín, gave an interview to El Correo de Andalucía, stressing this key question: “once passed the initial propaganda, we observe that the major part of the terrorists are born citizens of the countries they attack. One of the main issues we face when trying to analyze terrorism is that there is a tendency to call it "international" so as to pass the buck. International terrorism is the sum of national terrorisms. We are moving towards an Europe where nationalistic discourses and refendatory populism prevail and hide democracy's very essence”.

And he added this interpretation of the Nice events, which can also apply to what happened in Normandy: “I suggest we study this act of terror on the same level as that of Norwegian Breivik, who killed 77 fellow citizens in Oslo; or as the shooting at an Orlando nightclub, perpetrated by a frustrated gay man, or the depressed German copilot who crashed a plane in the Alps, killing himself, but also the passengers and the plane crew. The "djihadist" component of what happened in Nice (what has been called ‘express radicalization’) is in the service of the self-fulfilled prophecy we like so much: let's keep talking obsessively about Daesh in Europe and every single individual willing to commit murder will shoot an allegiance video. To believe these operations originates from outside Europe is a huge mistake. Inside Europe, Daesh does nothing more than acting like a center for all kinds of assertions. They don't stage terrorist operations but reap the benefits of any successful act of pure madness. In Syria and Iraq, Daesh is something entirely different: an oil mafia.”

I'll admit that I was speechless when my friend suggests that we all go to war together, in order to suppress the issue. There are no answers that simple to this complicated issue, I thought, and even less so when geopolitical stakes are involved.

On the morning of July 26, I started being more affected by dread. While I was watching on tv the images of what once was my home, and nobody answered the phone, I myself thought in simple terms; but near noon, finally, someone said "allo". Who knows maybe this saved me from simplistic answers.