"Fear is going to change sides," French President Emmanuel Macron said after the beheading on Friday of a high school teacher who in his classes spoke about freedom of expression and the cartoons of Muhammad in the weekly Charlie Hebdo. Now France is looking for answers. But the terrorist is dead and it does not appear that he was operating inside a cell. What to do? The goal is the "harassment" and "destabilization" of Islamists who undermine laws or stir up hatred. The most striking measure is the request to dismantle groups that the Government designates as "enemies of the Republic."
The battle has begun. The Government has a list of 51 associations that will be subjected to a rigorous review in the coming days. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced on Monday his intention to call for the dismantling of the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF, in its French acronym) and the Islamic NGO Baraka City.
“I wish it,” declared Darmanin on the Europe 1 radio station. “Here is an association manifestly implicated, because the father who launched a fatwa against the teacher was referring to this association. It is an entity that receives State aid and benefits from tax deductions. Denounce State Islamophobia. And we have elements to think that they are enemies of the Republic ”, he added.
When speaking of fatwa, the minister was referring to the campaign that the father of a 13-year-old student launched on social networks against Samuel Paty, the professor of History and Geography at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, near Paris, for showing the images of Muhammad, something in principle contrary to the Muslim religion. The Government is concerned that a new type of terrorist is emerging: lonely, with precarious means, without connections to international organizations and inspired by the feeling of being a victim of Islamophobia in secular France. Darmanin has also called for the closure of the Pantin mosque, on the outskirts of Paris, for spreading one of the videos against the professor.
The police have launched operations against dozens of individuals who, although not directly related to the attack, should know that "there will be no rest before the enemies of the Republic," said Darmanin in the aforementioned interview. In addition, more than 80 hate investigations have been opened on the Internet against those who, "apologetically, explained in one way or another that the professor had asked for it." And the process of expulsion to their countries has begun of some 230 foreigners – guilty of crimes and offenses, or in an irregular situation – who appear on the lists of suspects.
Fifteen people, including the student's father and an Islamic preacher, are being held for questioning. There are no defendants for now. In a three-hour meeting Sunday night with top ministers, Macron asked them to prepare carefully and with all the necessary security measures for the resumption of classes on November 2 after the two-week fall break. And he instructed them to foresee "concrete actions" that could be adopted in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday.
For Macron, the response to the latest attack is a political and legal puzzle. From the right and the extreme right, the president is urged to overcome the lexical debates: should we talk about Islamism? Of communitarianism? Of separatism? Critics also argue that collective expressions of emotion are no longer enough. On Sunday tens of thousands of people demonstrated across France to remember Paty. And on Wednesday, the Sorbonne University will host a national tribute ceremony.
That all this is insufficient, nobody really questions it, neither to the right nor to the left. And yet it is unclear what steps could be taken beyond those allowed by current legislation and those announced by the French president in early October in a speech against what he called "Islamist separatism." The associations and personalities that are targeted by the authorities have long been spreading radical messages without being outlawed or condemned.
Display of strength
For now, the government's idea is to make a display of rhetorical and administrative force before these small groups and individuals. It is about exploiting the legal margins to the maximum to send the signal that the State will be inflexible. Also to take advantage of the shock at Paty's murder to shake consciences, in France and abroad, where sometimes the bureaucracy of the countries where the alleged suspects must be expelled – the Maghreb countries or Russia mainly – drag their feet, according to a source from the Ministry of the Interior. With the law against separatism, which will be presented in December and should be adopted in the first half of 2021, France will equip itself with the tools to dismantle radical associations and mosques and stop their financing, and also to prevent or punish the indoctrination of minors in the country.
"Islamists," said the President of the Republic to his ministers at the Elysee Palace meeting, "should not be able to sleep peacefully in our country."