Terrorism: can France withstand the pressure?

After the killing of teacher Samuel Paty near Paris, President Macron spoke of a "vicious Islamist terrorist attack" and announced that he would crack down harder on radical Islamists. Paty was murdered not long after discussing Mohammed cartoons in class. Observers outline the challenges France faces after the attack.

Open/close all quotes
The Guardian (GB) /

Teachers are the bedrock of enlightened France

Not for the first time, the country's educators are on the front line in the battle against religious fanaticism, The Guardian recalls:

“Since the Third Republic firmly took education from the hands of the church in the early 1880s and made it free, mandatory and secular, its peaceful infantry of teachers has been the bedrock of the French republic. ... Thanks to them, religion was eventually relegated to the spiritual realm. They had successfully destroyed the church's aspirations to weigh in on France's political life and choices. ... A century after they helped tame religion's interference in our public life, France's teachers find themselves again at the vanguard of a new fight against obscurantism.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Make no concessions to fanatics

Islam must be treated like any other religion, Dagens Nyheter insists:

“Is it justified, for example, to project offending images onto government buildings [as was done with the Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoons during a demonstration in Paris]? Yes, that can be justified - as a sign that freedom of expression is now in danger and that those who want to make use of it have the full support of the state. As for Islam and other religions, the aggressive minority who want to restrict freedom of expression must never win. Making concessions to them would also be a betrayal of the many believers who consider freedom of speech and freedom of religion indispensable values. Treating Islam like any other religion is a matter of course. That would disarm both the critics of religion and the religious fanatics.”

Dilema Veche (RO) /

Land of human rights caught in the fear trap

France does not dare to take decisive action against Islamist movements and their ideas, says dramaturge Matei Vișniec in Dilema Veche:

“Unfortunately, fear has spread across the country of human rights. I have noticed this because the theatre repertoires do not include plays about Islamisation or Islamist indoctrination. Nor are there any films about these subjects; it's as if someone were banning them. Novels on this subject do not reach a wide audience, unless they are written by Michel Houellebecq, and that is not enough. Self-censorship creates monsters, while politically correct thinking cripples the branding of Islamist fascism. The fight against this enemy will probably take a long time and can only be won on one condition: it must begin.”

Efimerida ton Syntakton (GR) /

Secularism equated with decay

Efimerida ton Syntakton sees the appeal of French democracy undermined:

“With its constant social security cutbacks and growing social inequalities, can France still exude the appeal and brilliance as a new homeland that it had for the first generation of Muslims? ... The model of the secular state with its roots in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution was something even the national liberation movements that claimed independence from France strived for. ... Today, in the former French North Africa, the secular state is associated with economic misery and decay. ... Therefore both in France and in the Maghreb countries, extreme fundamentalism, Islamofascism, finds a fertile breeding ground.”

Berlingske (DK) /

Democracy must uphold its values

People who oppose Islamism also need support in Denmark, Berlingske stresses:

“A teacher wrote on the weekend that she would also use the Mohammed cartoons in class - and immediately received threats of violence. This shows that democratic society must uphold its values and do all it can to protect those who are on the front lines against the Islamists. Our teachers must not be left to fend for themselves, and we must be on guard against fear-induced self-censorship. ... Religious authorities must stress again and again that criticism of religion is permissible in free societies. ... Danish imams and mosques should honour Samuel Paty and take his death as a cruel reminder that religion should never be misused.”

Telos (FR) /

Ensure social cohesion

On the evening after the teacher was murdered, Macron stressed that the terrorists would not succeed in dividing French society. If only that were the case, sociologist Jean-François Mignot sighs in Telos:

“The bottom line is that 'we' are already deeply divided on the topic of blasphemy. And the Islamists know it, and are actively working towards deepening these divisions with the aim of enforcing their theocratic, anti-democratic and anti-liberal ideal in France, in the West and in the world. If we want to save our freedom of thought, expression, teaching and what is left of our social and national cohesion, we must act quickly and decisively. ... Schools must play a central role in this - although the teachers must not be left alone, as is too often the case.”

Ria Novosti (RU) /

Radical secularism is fatal

France is far too radical in its defence of freedom of expression and secularism, Ria Novosti argues:

“It's both ironic and sad that all three sides of this confrontation ultimately speak one language - that of radicalism. There is no longer any fundamental difference between Islamic radicalism, left-wing politically correct liberalism and the extreme secularism of the French state. To solve a long-maturing, serious problem, France is resorting to the same maximally crude brainwashing methods as the Islamists - albeit with far less chance of success. This strategy pursued by the West will have fatal consequences.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Censorship is not the solution

France's Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has announced that he plans to ban organisations that disseminate Islamist ideas online. This is a dangerous step, warns NRC Handelsblad:

“It is understandable that the French state scrutinises organisations that fan the flames online. But to announce that you want to ban them from the outset goes against the very values you claim to defend. The priority now is to support teachers who are worried about their room for manoeuvre. ... The classroom is a place where everyone, without distinctions, must be able to learn independently - learn to look and think carefully. That naturally includes confrontation with unsavoury images and texts.”

Libération (FR) /

School stands for everything terrorists hate

Libération calls for the defence of the secular education system:

“School was struck at its very core on Friday night. Let there be no doubt that now more than ever we must love, pamper and protect it. ... School represents what terrorists abhor: freedom of expression, knowledge, science, debate, sharing, culture, learning to exercise one's free will, accepting criticism, living together despite our differences, books instead of the One Book, whatever its name. All of this is what the Islamist terrorist of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine attacked, and all of this we must protect today more than ever in order to combat obscurantism, fanaticism and barbarism.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

For Islamists true teaching only comes from God

Unfortunately, schools are predestined to be the scene where the conflict between secular societies and Islamists plays out, columnist Ezio Mauro also fears in La Repubblica:

“A neutral, civic institution which should give everyone a common vision of the world we live in and the country we live in. ... But for radical Islamism the only true teaching is the Word of God, which comes straight from heaven. ... This doctrine cannot be adapted to the general morals and civil practices that translate it in schools, courts and in coexistence. In French tradition, on the other hand, since 1905 the school has been the republican melting pot, the heart of the secularity of the state which wants the walls of the classrooms to be bare so that the knowledge and conscience of the students can grow in freedom and not under the gaze of any god.”

Expressen (SE) /

Those who exercise free expression pay a high price

Fear is suffocating criticism of Islam not just in France, Expressen says:

“The risk of self-censorship spreading is obvious. ... In Sweden the artist Lars Vilks [who portrayed Mohammed as a dog] has been living in acute danger for 13 years and has had personal bodyguards since December 2010. This says something about the high price people pay when they are prepared to provoke extremists. Vilks does not receive any significant support. The cultural milieu keeps its distance and neighbours have complained about him living near them. ... In theory, almost everyone praises freedom of expression, but in practice they don't want it to cost too much. The terrorist attack in France concerns us too.”

The Spectator (GB) /

Support moderate Muslims

Backing moderate Islam is key in the fight against Islamism, political analyst Ayaan Hirsi Ali stresses in The Spectator:

“Perhaps [Emmanuel Macron] could provide security and support to those French Muslims courageously speaking out against radical Islam? He could also support those French Muslims who seek to modify Sharia, historically contextualise the Sunnah (traditional Muslim practices) and establish a meaningful boundary between religion and state by challenging doctrinal purity. In the effort to combat the extremists, it is vital to distinguish the Muslims pushing for real change from the Islamists with silver tongues. A great many French Muslims are fighting against the Islamists, and Macron could do far more to support them.”

Adevărul (RO) /

The lone wolves are waking up

This cruel deed will be copied, fears Ovidiu Raețchi, a national liberal PNL parliamentarian, in Adevărul:

“Even if the murder near Paris is not a systemic act of terrorism because it was not coordinated by an organisation from the Middle East, it is nevertheless significant for the change in jihadism in recent decades. It is exactly the kind of spontaneous action that activates a vast amount of energy and cells that have been sleeping since the fatal blow that the IS received in Syria. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons are extremely efficient in mobilising radical structures that are just looking for reasons to mobilise. We must therefore expect to see more actions by lone wolves in Europe, incited by the beheading of Samuel Paty.”