Since the day of the attacks the way the French and international community have come together has been impressive. How we all in some way paid our respects to the victims, the wounded, their families, the traumatised; how we gathered to honour humanity. But a week after the attacks and as mourning is replaced with planning ahead, a number of challenges face both the French society and its leadership.
Firstly, secularism is important in French culture. While the barbarous acts of November 13 must not be attributed to any religion in itself, whether you consider ISIL ’s approach a drastic and radical read of a sacred text or simply an irrational radicalized ideology, it is unequivocal that ISIL is connected to religion. It follows an extremist approach to a well-known religion and claims to be the political impersonation of the religion itself. This is important to understand and admit, in order to prevent what particularly the Muslim community is afraid of – an amalgamation of the concepts of terrorism and mainstream Islam.
To some extent the alarm is justified. As opposed to some arguments being advanced after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, I do not believe that the Muslim community or any other community for that matter face major repression in France. Though the strong values of secularism and equality in France can pose problems in their implementation and relations in a bigger framework. Recognizing the indirect link between religion and ISIL is the first step towards affirming unity facing terrorism.
Outside of the religious mixed-up, people have started to rethink their own behaviour and reasons for attending certain events or trusting certain persons. Distrust, wariness and suspicion have spread on and off French soil. Even though France's fragmentation goes a long way back and the country has always represented a multitude of interests, the current political situation has also contributed to heighten this fracture.
Recognizing the indirect link between religion and ISIL is the first step in facing terrorism.
In the political sphere, how to deal with terrorism has always been a point of divergence. Though political unity was adopted the day following the attacks, soon enough parties and personalities' interests shined through. As expected, a lot of the attention was directed at the Far Right in the form of Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN), a growing force in the opposition. Following the attacks, drastic decisions and measures were taken, including the declaration of state of emergency, the closing of French Borders and the multiplication of police raids all over the country as well as in other European nations – measures that the FN strongly supported, just as the majority of the public did.
Nonetheless, the Socialist Party (PS), currently in power, still have a lot to play. President François Hollande, who leads the party, was throughout the year criticized for his lack of presence and his inability to take real actions individually. Although he engaged in Mali shortly after being elected and started his mandate firmly, many notably deplored what was considered a moderate approach against terrorism after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January and the attacks at a gas factory near Lyon in June, both linked to Islamic radicals.
This time around, Mr Hollande’s prompt reaction to the crisis, his ability to communicate clearly to the public and the launch of strikes on ISIL – although considered violent and unacceptable by some – seem to have reconciled a fair share of the population. As police operations unfold and policies and agreements come to light, the way the government handles the aftermath of the crisis will have a valuable impact on public opinion, a crucial matter for Mr Hollande as France approaches its regional elections in December and further down the road the national election in 2017.
The current situation predicts a multitude of tasks for France, especially as ISIL and its supporters worldwide have once again proven their desire to hit France. However, the actions called by François Hollande, and the efficiency shown by both the police and other areas of the public sector have been highly praised by both the public and the media, providing optimism for those following the events. Despite the many challenges which Mr Hollande’s administration will have to deal with, a strong response and involvement by the French in the long term against the threat posed by terrorism can be expected. TMM