French President Francois Hollande makes a statement on television following attacks in Paris, France, in this still image taken from video on November 13, 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
PARIS – Leaders of French political parties were quick to announce after Friday’s attacks the suspension of their campaigns for the regional elections scheduled for December 6 and 13. President François Hollande called upon all layers of society to unite against these acts of barbarism, with his rival Nicolas Sarkozy formulating statements in the same vein. But for extreme-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, the attacks were further proof France must change its approach on issues such as radical Islam, immigration and national identity, claiming “France has become vulnerable.’’ French analysts are debating whether the attacks will reinforce Marine Le Pen and her party ahead of the regional elections, and also ahead of the presidential elections of 2017.
Prof. Jean-Yves Camus, director of the Observatoire des Radicalités Politiques, and co-author of Les droites extrêmes en Europe (The extreme rights in Europe), argues that a victory by the National Front party would actually award the attackers.
“A victory of French extreme right, so they believe, would force Muslims living here to unite. They would feel stigmatized and rejected by French society. The ideologists of the Islamic State, al-Qaida and such organizations think that the polarization of French society would push those French of North African countries to adopt an extreme Islamic identity.
They aspire for a civil war in the heart of Europe. For them, the war against ‘colonizing France’ still continues. They are the first to profit from Le Pen’s inflammatory declarations.’’ Camus believes most French citizens understand what’s at stake now, politically, socially and security-wise. “Most French voters realize that in days like this the country needs a real statesman, a cool headed figure.
Hollande: Paris attacks 'act of war', ISIS behind them
Not someone working on emotions like Le Pen. Still, there are others who criticize the government and feel that it’s acting too softly and too slowly. They are exasperated and fearful.’’ Edith, 38, a mother of two, had dinner with friends in a café near Rue de Charonne, and heard the gunshots. “The attack against Charlie Hebdo took place a few minutes’ walk from here.
But at the time we felt that we were not targeted. It was against the press, it was against the Jewish community. Now we feel it can happen anywhere, anytime. Many of my friends complain the government isn’t doing enough. But what can you do? The prime minister himself lives just next door. The neighborhood is already full of police officers.’’ Paris police are slowly releasing the names of the victims of Friday’s terrorist attacks. And though many have yet to be published, it is already clear the long list reflects French middle- class social diversity – people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, youngsters of various religious affiliations; young men and women who went to listen to a rock concert with friends, or to have a drink on a Friday evening. The targets were seemingly chosen randomly by the assailants – a move designed to disseminate fear among Parisians by killing as many as possible in different locations across the city simultaneously.
But there are those who think differently.
“Looking more closely at the targets, we can actually see an alleged rationality and a set of precise objectives. The attacks were perpetrated in locations representing all that is negative in the eyes of extreme Islamists.
I myself live in the neighborhood where the gunshots were fired; Rue de Charonne is a hub of cafes and restaurants, of Parisian nightlife. The Bataclan club featured on Friday night an American band, namely ‘decadent music.’ Even the Saint Denis Stadium would be considered in terrorists’ eyes as a symbol of Western decadent amusement. The French national team was playing that night against Germany,’’ Camus said. “The attackers are actually attacking out national cohesiveness.”
Camus said he had already warned of a massive terror attack which could influence the 2017 presidential elections.
He claimed the national consensus about fighting radical Islam together, so clearly expressed after the January Paris attacks, is still valid, but that further attacks could threaten this French solidarity, and strengthen feelings of xenophobia.
“Marine Le Pen calls to close down all the Salafist mosques. But the young men and women who went to Syria or to Iraq, didn’t necessarily visit such mosques before going. She is using current fear to force her long time claim that both Right and Left here are helpless vis-avis extreme Islamic terrorism. That only she has the answers,’’ Camus said.