The French city of Nice is in shock this week after a man stormed into a Catholic church with a knife, beheading one woman and killing two other people.
The attack came two weeks after teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded near Paris by an attacker who said he was angered by the teacher using cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to teach a class about freedom of expression.
President Emmanuel Macron’s subsequent defence of such cartoons angered some Muslims in the country. And comments the president made about “Islamist separatism” and earlier remarks about the religion being “in crisis” prompted demonstrations in several Muslim nations and strong rebukes from leaders such as Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistan’s Imran Khan.
“France is under attack … we won’t surrender anything,” Macron told reporters outside the Notre-Dame basilica after the incident in Nice, doubling down on his position and labeling it “an Islamic terror attack”. The attacker, who was Tunisian and shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he carried out the killings, was shot and arrested by police.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith condemned the attack and called on Muslims in France to stop celebrations marking the birthday of the prophet “as a sign of mourning and in solidarity with the families of victims and the Catholics of France.”
The attacks, and Macron’s comments on Islam and defence of the caricatures, have put a long-running and rancorous debate about Islam’s place in France’s avowedly secular society firmly back on the agenda. Muslims in France say they have for decades faced rampant Islamophobia. A 2019 study carried out by Bertelsmann Stiftung found that about 40 percent of people in France viewed Islam as “a threat”.
In this episode of The Stream, we examine France’s internal security challenges, its government’s often fraught relationship with its Muslim communities and consider the potential impacts of this latest attack – on Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
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