Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu
Let’s get this straight. France is at war.
No other word can be used to describe our current situation. With increased aggression directed towards the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe and steadily increasing support for far-right parties, there is no doubt that France has become the perfect strategic target for terrorist groups. While the French public was already traumatized after Charlie Hebdo and the foiled August attack on a bullet train travelling between Brussels and Paris, yesterday's attack is even more horrifying. More than ever, this tragedy illuminates two of the most pressing challenges that France and the rest of Europe face.
The first: security. The most anxiety-provoking feature of the attack is the security breach. The French army was deployed, and the President de la République, François Hollande, announced a state of emergency under Article 6 of the constitution—an unprecedented decision. France has not declared a state of emergency since General De Gaulle did so in French Algeria during the 1961 War of Independence, and even that did not cover the entire country. A state of emergency in France entails an immediate shutdown of the country, including the closure of borders, curfews where deemed necessary, and the transfer of all powers to the President.
The second: the need to strengthen our identity and prevent the rise of extremism. With increasing animosity between communities—Muslims from the Maghreb, Jews from Southern and Eastern Europe—and arrogant treatment of non-European immigrants by the French bureaucracy, the idea of vivre ensemble (live together), a popular saying amongst politicians describing their ideal of a multi-cultural France, has been discredited. Because of their cavalier championing of secularism as the only way for diverse cultures and religions to coexist, France has failed to adequately integrate immigrants, particularly when compared to the United States or Canada. In many parts of France, first, second, and even third generation immigrants do not consider themselves French. Indeed, many of the terrorists who have attacked France are French, newly converted to Islam in an attempt to reconnect with their lost roots.
This tragedy is, of course, a blessing for the far right party, Le Front National. The Front feeds on the politics of fear and division—the fear of the other, the fear of the outer world—and creates a binary between those seen as 'real' French citizens, and those of non-European descent.
Is there any hope amid such darkness and despair?
I believe that there is. Allow me to, for a moment, relate this question to my personal experience. When I first visited Canada in 2013, I was flabbergasted by Canada’s success in integrating citizens compared to France. I was moved to see how Canada has managed to bring people from all walks of life together, allowed them to work, and given them legal assurance that, with multiculturalism, their families can keep the traditions of their native country. France is very different than Canada, of this I am well aware. However, we still have so much to learn in terms of how to turn a society into one big community—into one people.
An anthropologist researched what French people believed they had in common with one another. His conclusion? Their National Identity card, and nothing more. When I think about Canada, I think about the common wish to build a happy life, where people live in peace, equality and harmony with one another. There is value in being a Canadian, and that, I believe, is a great force. In France, even if we believe that we have a strong and powerful culture with a renowned l’art de vivre, that national identity is unfortunately not shared with the entire French population.
It is too early to end our grief, but our broken France is not going to fix itself. In the face of adversity, we need to bring together all of the men and women of this country—regardless of race or religion—and rebuild France on a new foundation of resilience. Let the terrorists know that striking France will not cause the country to tear itself apart, and that terror has finally reached its limits.
Hope and solidarity are the only things left in our hearts—let them be the cement of our union.
May our Marianne française rise again.