On the 29th of October, 2020 at around 9 AM in the Notre-Dame Basilica, a church in the city of Nice, France- 3 innocent people lost their lives in the targeted killing of Christian worshippers. The attacker was a young Tunisian man, who arrived in the southern city of Nice a little over a month prior.
The 21-year-old attacker allegedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) right before beheading a woman, and shouted the same after the police detained him. The police officers wounded the suspect as he supposedly approached them in a threatening manner. He was later taken to the hospital for his injuries. The family of the suspect stated that he was a “friendly person” who “never showed extremism”.
The arrested suspect has a criminal record relating to violent behavior and drug dealing in Tunisia. The Anti-Terror prosecutors have opened an investigation into the attack under “murder and attempted murder linked to a terrorist enterprise”. The attack took place on the official birthday of Prophet Mohammad.
Who were the victims?
The victims were a 60-year-old woman, who was decapitated in the church, another was a 55-year-old man who suffered deep and fatal throat cuts. He worked as the churchwarden. Another fatality was a 44-year-old woman who was injured in the church but managed to escape to a nearby bar. She later succumbed to her injuries.
Events leading up to the attack:
The Nice attack came almost a month after a french middle school teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by a man of Chechen origin. The attacker’s anger-provoked motive was to punish Paty for showing pupils cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in a civics lesson. Visual depictions of Mohammad are strictly prohibited in most schools, according to Muslim Law.
The cartoons were published in a French satirical weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo. It was done so to mark the trial of the alleged accomplices in the deadly 2015 attack against the publication.
After Samuel Paty’s death, protests and global demonstrations erupted, and “Boycott France” was observed in Turkey, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Gaza, and parts of the Middle East. A rally led by Israeli Arabs in Tel Aviv took place outside the French embassy. French officials later re-asserted the rights to display cartoons, enclosed in the right to freedom of expression. The images were widely displayed at marches in solidarity. This further prompted an outpour of anger in the Muslim-world with some governments accusing President Macron of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda.
In Kuwait, some supermarkets removed French products from their shelves, and there were calls in Saudi Arabia and the UAE to boycott the Carrefour grocery chain. Qatar University canceled a French culture week. The Gulf Cooperation Council called Macron’s comments “irresponsible”. Jordan and Pakistan summoned the French ambassadors to voice out their displeasure. The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top cleric, also condemned France.
French President Emmanuel Macron addressed his citizens at Samuel Paty’s memorial, ten days before the Nice attacks, that his “only role right now is to promote calm and protect these rights” (right to freedom of expression) of artists. He stated that France would never give in to violence. The anger developing in the Muslim community is understandable, but the violence is not justifiable. The President went ahead to announce plans to draft a bill to counter Islamic radicalism. He mentioned that “Islam is in crisis,” which further sparked more backlash from various communities.
Reactions to the Nice attack:
President Macron visited the site of the attack. He described it as an act of “Islamist terrorism”. He addressed the press that day urging his citizens “whatever their religion, if they are believers or not, they have to, in these moments come together and not give in to the spirit of division.”
Lawmakers in the National Assembly in Paris observed a minute’s silence that morning in solidarity. France’s PM Jean Castex announced that the country was going on an emergency alert. The French Muslim Council (Conseil Français du Culte Musulman) condemned Thursday’s attack and called on Muslims to cancel their Mawlid celebrations as a “sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their loved ones”.
The following days saw Twitter trends of countries and people showing their support to the French government, condemning the terrorist attacks. A week prior, the Turkish-French relations were under tension. Turkey released a statement expressing their condolences to the French people, saying that "no reason could legitimize or excuse killing someone, or violence. Those who conducted this at a sacred place of worship clearly do not share any religious, humane, or moral values." While the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Bin Mohamad, claimed in a series of controversial tweets that Muslims have the right to kill millions of people because of the atrocities that were once done to them. The tweets have since been taken down.
Many countries such as Uruguay, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Canada, expressed their condolences and condemned the attack.
Recent developments since the attack:
The Nice attack was an awakening call to the French Government to protect their citizens against the so-called ‘Islamist terrorists’. Three days after the deadly attack, another news broke headlines, this time from Vienna. A man accused of being an “Islamist State Sympathizer” killed 4 people, injuring 23 others. He was shot dead by the police.
On the 8th November, Sunday, French Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin was set on a mission to Algeria and Tunisia, on Friday, where he praised his country’s cooperation against extremism. Tunisia said it would accept France's repatriation of Tunisian citizens suspected of being radical Islamists following the attacks. The same was expected from Algeria- to take back its illegal nationals present in the French Republic.
On the 10th November, President Macron urged a “rapid and coordinated” European response to terror attacks, after hosting a video conference with fellow EU leaders. He asked for a response towards the “development of common databases, exchange of information, or the strengthening of criminal policies”. The leaders discussed the need for a “determined fight against terrorist propaganda and hate speech on the internet”.
To combat terrorism, Macron also urged the strengthening of border controls, announcing the doubling of the number of French border guards. He insisted on a deep revision of rules in the Schengen area, during a visit to the Franco-Spanish border. The area permits the free movement of people across borders.
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community. The debate of Islamist linked terror groups and residing suspects in France has gone global, instead of the government solving the problem on a national level without giving into stigmatization and stereo-debates. It is evident how speeches can lead to threats and in some cases, to deaths.
Article by: Melanie Dsouza