Last May, the head of the French Domestic Intelligence service, the DGSI, a sort of FBI, told a parliamentary commission he felt “we are on the verge of a civil war.” Patrick Calver said: “one or more new attacks and the confrontation will come.” He was referring to extreme right wing violence in reaction to terrorism.
In response to growing sentiment in France against Muslims and their perceived silence on the attacks which have killed 238 people and injured hundreds more over the past year-and-a-half, the French president said Thursday that Muslims have their place in France adding that they are “the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance.” François Hollande said: “Nothing in secularism is opposed to the idea of practicing Islam in France, as long as it obeys the law.”
The French president ruled out any legislation hot on the heels of the attacks, even though he is the one who imposed a state of emergency last November which has been prolonged until next year and also introduced legislation to deprive duel nationals of their French citizenship if they are involved in terrorism. That law was scrapped after strong resistance from within his own Socialist party.
Although Thursday’s speech to fellow socialists was meant to launch his re-election bid for next year’s ballot, much of the media coverage was devoted to his take on terrorism. Hollande insisted that his priority is “rule of law” although the state of emergency effectively does away with many basic, democratic rights. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, the man who opposed Hollande in the run-off in 2012 and would like a remake next year, responded by saying: “My priority is not rule of law. My priority is the safety of the French people.”
Terrorism and the place of Islam in France will be a major issue in next year’s elections. Although Hollande tried to equate Islam’s problems of adapting to the secular state with those of Catholics, Protestants and Jews over a century ago, the public is not buying it. This is not new. A 2013 poll of ethnic French already showed 74% believe Islam is an intolerant religion and eight out of ten felt Islam is trying to impose its way of life on them.
The latest polls show Hollande will only get from 11% to 15% of the vote and not make it to the second round next year. The extreme right National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, is sure to run-off against whichever conservative candidate is chosen. Le Pen would even come in top of the first round with 29% of the vote if elections were held today. The terrorist attacks and the rise of the National Front have led Sarkozy’s conservative Les Republicains party to take up many of Le Pen’s hard line views such as stripping duel nationals of their citizenship for Islamist activities, interning in camps those Muslims listed as “radicalized,” tougher prison sentences for minor offenses, massive deportations of illegal migrants, and a tightening of border controls.
The July 14 attack in Nice which killed 85 people, and which was followed by Mayors trying to ban Muslims from wearing ‘burkinis’ on their beaches, has brought France closer to what French philosopher Michel Onfry refers to as “the civil war on the way.”
The arrests Thursday and Friday of three fundamentalist women who wanted to set off a car-bomb near Notre Dame are not reassuring public sentiment which François Hollande tried to comfort by underlining out how many attacks the police had prevented. According to the French public prosecutor, François Molins, the only reason the gas bottles did not explode is because the primitive firing device, a lit cigarette, did not work. Even more discomforting, witnesses say it took the police over two hours to come and check out the car after locals had phoned in about a suspicious vehicle.