People in Paris are still leery of large crowds; think twice before walking into a department store or museum or taking the metro. But now, as I write, we look in shock at live TV coverage of yet another savage attack by Islamic jihadists. Today it’s Mali’s turn.
The outcome there will certainly stoke the already incendiary political debate going on here in France – and across much of the globe. The Muslim radicals barricaded in the luxury Raddison Hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako, held more than 100 people hostage. Reportedly, several hostages were freed because they were able to recite verses of the Koran. In the violent aftermath reportedly 28 people have already been killed.
Mali, in fact, was another front in Francois Hollande’s battle against radical Islam. He dispatched French troops there in January 2013, to prevent a takeover by extremist groups, some with links to Al-Qaeda. He ultimately deployed more than 3,000 troops, with most of his European allies ignoring his request to send some of their own combat soldiers. In fact, French troops are still there, along with UN peacekeepers.
The scenes we’re watching in Paris from Mali are a reprise of the replays we’ve seen, over and over and over again, on French TV of last Friday’s carnage in this city and the violent aftermath in a northern suburb. The result of it all that fear and horror is that the liberal dikes of ‘political correctness’ have been breached in France – and across Europe – as many had warned would happen.
Right wing slogans that had once been dismissed as the demagogic ranting of Marine Le Penn’s Front National, are now being seriously considered in the ‘respectable’ media and solemnly debated across the political spectrum
In virtual non-stop appearances on TV talk shows, she’s demanding an immediate halt to the intake of immigrants from Syria, says that the Schengen agreement, which allows free passage across European borders, is ‘madness’, and advocates Draconian measures against any of the thousands of French suspected of jihadist sympathies or contacts.
Conservative politicians, like Nicholas Sarkozy, desperate to keep their restive electorate, are scrambling to sound just as militant as Le Pen. More appalling, is the mounting wave of Islamophobia. Following the attack on Charlie Hebdo last January, there was a concerted effort by France’s leaders and media to distinguish between the radical jihadists who carried out the killings, and the vast majority of France’s Muslim population, the largest in Europe.
The French Council of the Muslim Religion – often divided among itself – has denounced the carnage of last Friday in the strongest terms. They’ve called for sermons in all 2400 mosques of France, warned of the modern Islamic “gangrene” – of “evil doers” who are “seducing young Muslims”. Daesh, they say, is the “incarnation of an ancestral ideology of a group of dissidents which fought against the campaigns of the Prophet.”
But in today’s conservative Le Figaro, one of France’s major newspapers, there are two full pages devoted to detailing how the ‘salafist’ are infiltrating France’s public services. Reflecting their large numbers in France, thousands of Muslims have been employed in all branches of the transport services, from busses and railroads to the Metro and Air France. Some of the most observant, it turns out, refuse to shake hands (a severe insult in France) with female colleagues or drive a train or a bus if a woman has just been sitting at the controls. These issues have become more acute as some younger Muslims, born in France, become more observant and militant than their parents.
All this has been simmering for years in the ranks of the public workers. Now it’s been brought front and centre. But these issues are nothing compared to what may lie ahead.
With just a few dissenting votes, the French Chamber of Deputies has extended the state of emergency declared after last Friday’s attacks for another three months. The danger is that some of the measures – such as allowing warrantless searches, banning groups considered dangerous, and prohibiting certain demonstrations – are measures which might make eminent sense in the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks. But they could be improperly used down the road to permanently undermine basic liberties.
Francois Hollande is a highly unpopular president. Could he be tempted to turn these measures to his own political purposes? He has said they are vital to his war against terrorism. Sounds just like George W Bush. Who will declare when that war on terror is over? It’s going to take many more than three months – probably years – before the Islamic State is defeated. Will that be it? Or won’t there almost certainly be other jihadists somewhere else in the world who will take its place.
What is also remarkable in the Paris aftermath is that the most extreme positions are being taken not by French politicians, still reacting from the horrific attacks in their own nation’s capital, but by America’s Republican presidential candidates, like Dr Ben Carson, who says a Muslim should not be able to become president of the US.
And now Donald Trump has upped the ante, calling for a national database for all Muslims living in the US. He dodged a question about how he would enforce that law, nor how that would make America different from Nazi Germany, which demanded identity cards from all its Jews.
Trump’s proposal would be a stunning statement coming from a prominent American politician; in this case, it’s come from the leading Republican contender for President. You can be sure the French are listening.