Over the course of three separate days in France, a gunman killed seven people and injured a further two. Four were soldiers of African and Caribbean descent, one was a rabbi and four were Jewish children. In an act reminiscent of the killings by neo-Nazi Breivik in Norway, many were quick to predict this was another neo-Nazi episode, but it emerged the gunman was Mohammed Mehda, an Islamist and a French citizen.
Now the situation is much more difficult to assess. Had the killer been a neo-Nazi the Left would have found it much easier to blame Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen for their comments about immigration inciting such horrific acts. Yet now there is the fear that Sarkozy and Le Pen will have been justified in their scare mongering. Sarkozy has already gained points in the polls over the Left wing Hollande.
Following the event, commentators were quick to point the blame at racial tension in France and even make sweeping statements decrying France as a racist country. The recent shootings haven’t been the only displays of anti-Semitism in France. Prior to the event and since, there have been displays of abuse and physical violence against those of the Jewish faith. It comes from the Muslim-Arab community in France who carry out revenge attacks on Jews for the anger they feel towards the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Muslims can also be treated like second class citizens. There was an incident prior to the banning of the Burqa where a French woman ripped off a Muslim woman’s veil. These aren’t the only communities suffering abuse. There were mass Roma deportations from France in 2010. They were treated so badly that the UN intervened to condemn the actions. So why is there this apparent tension between different religions, races and those who see themselves as ‘real’ French citizens?
One line of argument blames France’s secularism. French secularism isn’t just about separation of state and church, but also a discouragement of obvious displays of religion. The Burqa is banned in public, girls cannot wear the veil in school, and Christians must not draw attention to their crosses. Does this then breed intolerance to religion? If you’re told that to be a French citizen you must not be overly religious then those who are can’t help but appear like bad citizens. This can’t be blamed on the French public, but rather on the French politicians. By legislating or debating banning religious displays it gives a democratic voice and justification to those who hold more extreme views.
That is surely not the point of French secularism. Its point is to encourage all to be able to be French citizens, without feeling that religion allows you to be or prohibits you from being an active member of French society. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have worked.
Another reason attributed to the shootings was the right wing voice in France. Earlier when it was still believed the gunman was a neo-Nazi, criticism was lauded on Sarkozy and Le Pen for their anti-immigration rhetoric. Marine Le Pen is frighteningly popular. At 15% in the polls, she is a real presence in French politics. Sarkozy plays to her rhetoric and tries to win over her voters by raging a ridiculous debate about Halal and Kosher meat. Perhaps French politicians are too vocal about this perceived ‘problem’ of immigration; Sarkozy should be encouraging integration and equality amongst the people resident in France, not relaying his fears of eating Halal meat.
Both arguments above are flawed and neither goes to explain why it was a French Algerian Muslim who murdered other immigrants and not an ethnically French person. There will always be inter-racial conflict and tension in every country. Sometimes Jews and Muslims will argue over the Israel-Palestine question. The French presidential candidates should be discussing constructive means to help the communities live together.
Thankfully most will not go to the lengths that Mehda did. His actions can’t be explained by politics. He did a terrible thing. Let’s give the respect to the French people who were upset and saddened by the event and not denounce a whole nation as racist for one man’s horrific actions.