Terror in Nice: On French church attacks

France must win the terror fight if the world is not to descend into civilisational chaos

October 31, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:28 am IST

The knife attack in the southern French city of Nice on Thursday that killed three people and injured many more has left the country, which has barely recovered from the beheading of a schoolteacher in a Paris suburb by an 18-year-old Chechen two weeks ago, in shock and pain. The suspected Nice attacker, a 21-year-old Tunisian who is now in hospital with injuries, killed two, including an elderly woman, in a church; the other escaped to a pub nearby but later died of injuries. France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, has particularly been hit by Islamist terrorism in recent years. Thursday’s incident, which occurred in the context of the controversy over satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo ’s decision to republish Prophet Mohammed’s caricatures , is the latest in a series of terror attacks in the country in the last eight years that have killed more than 200. France’s agony and anger are understandable and its leaders have repeatedly said they would not give in to threats from terrorists. But the tragic reality is that jihadists continue to strike, taking innocent lives. Each time, it serves as a reminder that neither the government’s preventive measures, that include credible intelligence gathering and deradicalisation efforts, nor its combative postures work in ending this terror run. Needless to say, these attacks are driving a wedge between France’s already polarised communities, feeding into the far-right Islamophobic political narrative.

An implacable security response is an imperative of any counter-terrorism strategy. But it is important to understand the enemy. The Islamist terrorists, those who are inspired by the ideology of organisations such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, see the world as an arena of a clash of civilisations. Driven by a perverted interpretation of religion, they are ready to unleash violence against anybody who does not subscribe to their worldview. The fight against jihadists — a minuscule minority among the world’s Muslims but a potent threat to societies given their embrace of violence and a vicious ideology — should be mindful of not allowing them to sow discord on the basis of religious identities. This is the biggest challenge before the French President, Emmanuel Macron. Mr. Macron, who earlier this month said “Islam is in crisis”, should lead a united response to terrorism that does not posit French values against any belief system. The fight is for civilisational values, for democracy, secularism, freedom, and equality against radical Islamism, a medieval ideology that has equipped itself with modern weapons. It is important for the world that France wins this fight.

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