How the country responds now will have far-reaching consequencesby Emily Winterbotham , Lizz Pearson / July 19, 2016 / Leave a comment
As France reels from the tragedy in Nice, the third major attack in 18 months, the deaths of over 80 people will likely provide more fodder for the anti-Europe and anti-immigration line of the Front National (FN). If France is to combat both terror and the calls of the extreme right, it will need to ensure aggressive counter-terrorism mechanisms are complemented by a far-reaching counter-radicalisation strategy promoting the values of equality, liberty and fraternity. Such a strategy is in place, but it is years behind similar projects in other countries. Some catching-up is required.
The background of both the Nice attack, in which a lorry was driven for more than a mile through the crowds assembled to watch the Bastille Day fireworks, and of its attacker, identified as a 31-year-old man of Franco-Tunisian origin, are still being clarified. But FN leader Marine Le Pen wasted little time in using the event to score political points against the French government’s response to terrorism, fanning the flames of domestic discontent. Speaking to Le Figaro, she advocated measures to deprive terrorists of nationality, close Salafi mosques and ban certain organisations.
The FN has repeatedly warned against Islam and led arguments against immigration and gay marriage. And the party is doing well in the polls, with Le Pen expected to reach the final round of the presidential election in April 2017. No doubt the attack will also be further fuel for its anti-European stance—Le Pen has been calling for a French referendum on European Union membership for three years. Until recently, FN was considered a fringe movement. But research on countering extremism conducted by RUSI in France in the wake of the Paris attacks suggests that, for many, the extreme right now represents the mainstream.
And it is Muslims who are bearing the brunt: with each terrorist attack comes a further entrenchment of negative views of Islam, and greater conflation of ordinary Muslims with terrorists. As one young French Muslim told our researchers, “these attacks give people an excuse to say ‘look at these people who lived in France and destroyed the country’… they give Islam a bad name, and the excuse to vote Front National.” After three major attacks, many French think their leaders are impotent against the enemy.