What happened in Paris today is a devastating shock for France, and for the freedom of the Press. Just as 9/11 was an attack on symbols of American economic might, the slaughter at the offices of Charlie Hebdo undermines the country that has long since embodied the ideal of human rights.
Charlie Hebdo's staff has been threatened over the years as a result of its famously provocative caricature of the Prophet Mohammad in 2005. In 2011 an arson attack devastated the magazine’s headquarters. Journalists continued to receive death threats, and these were taken seriously enough to have policemen in the entrance hall, but nobody expected that words would be translated into deeds.
Even on the morning of the attack, intellectual debates were focused on Michel Houellebecq's new novel Soumission (Submission). This story describes the France of 2022 under the rule of Muslim law. Given the anti-Muslim atmosphere cultivated by Marine Le Pen’s extreme right-wing party, the Front National, and by other right wing provocateurs like, Houellebecq’s vision is even more provocative. Just the fact of imagining Muslims taking power, imposing Sharia law, stirs up hatred. As Picasso once wrote, “Everything you can imagine is real”.
France and the French government's worst nightmare has come to pass and the attack will have huge political repercussions. It undermines the government's credibility in terms of security. Two men were able to commit a well-planned terrorist attack in the heart of Paris and were still running free few hours later.
These events will be sure to boost Marine Le Pen 's supporters, who are always asking for more security and looking for easy identifiable enemies supposedly responsible for the economic crisis : the Muslims always come first. Certainly Mr Sarkozy will try to increase his appeal by boasting about the time when he was France’s “first cop” (le premier flic de France) and will offer his protection to the French. On the other hand, he clearly bears a strong responsibility in the fact that he triggered animosity against the Muslims, dividing the French people. To win the election in 2007, he developed the notion of an “identité nationale” in order to gain the extreme right vote. He won the election but planted the seeds of distrust.
This resulted in the crystalisation of hatred; the poor white man found a proper enemy. It also resulted in a radicalisation of young Muslims in France. What happened at Charie Hebdo’s offices is only the most recent episode of a self-fulfilling prophecy which started with 9/11. The human need to identify enemies is creating real enemies over the world. It is dangerous to play with fire.
Catherine Monroy was a correspondent for Le Monde in Prague, and for Le Figaro, in Budapest. She blogs at http://www.catherinemonroy.com
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