Nice Attack: Islamist terror, wilful denial and the rise of right-wing forces

When a terrorist attack takes place — and most are targeted against unarmed civilians in virtually every sphere of public life — the initial reaction of shock and horror is quickly replaced by anger. Grief needs catharsis. In absence of the terrorists who have perpetrated the crime, the anger turns towards the political leaders whose job it is to provide security.

The blood has not yet been wiped off the streets of Nice that France has turned against President Francois Hollande. Multiple TV channels covering the Thursday night tragedy showed unmitigated anger pouring against a President largely seen as effete, ineffective and incapable of preventing waves and waves of terror attacks on French soil.

The attack in Nice was as gruesome a terror strike as any. Latest reports indicate that 84 people were killed (50 more extremely critical) when a large white truck, said to be driven by a French-Tunisian citizen, ploughed into a large crowd gathered at the beachfront Promenade des Anglais in southern city of Nice for a fireworks display on Bastille Day. Reports have emerged that the driver shouted "Allahu Akbar" before taking out his gun and firing several times at the crowd before he was subsequently neutralised.

Bastille Day commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July, 1789, an important event in the French Revolution. It is marked with a military parade down Paris's most famous boulevard, a presidential address to the nation and a vast fireworks display. Founding values of French Republic, equality, liberty and fraternity, are glorified.

The significance of the day and the fact that a large number of citizens had gathered for celebration — made it a lucrative target. In one fell blow, two purposes were achieved. One, a huge number of people were killed ensuring widespread outrage and non-stop media coverage — aspects which serve as fuel for glorification of terror and draws more and more perpetrators. Two, a symbolic, cruel blow was dealt to the French ideal of syncretism, the bedrock on which the multicultural republic stands.

 Nice Attack: Islamist terror, wilful denial and the rise of right-wing forces

Marine Le Pen, leader of right-wing French National Front who has repeatedly promised to tackle Islamist terrorism with iron fist. Reuters

Faced with the nihilism of terror and mounting outrage among French citizens, Hollande appeared helpless.

“France as a whole is under the threat of Islamist terrorism. We have to demonstrate absolute vigilance and show determination that is unfailing,” the French President said in a televised statement, extending by three months a state of emergency that has been in place since the November attacks that killed 130 in Paris was to end 26 July.

"The terrorist character (of the attack) cannot be denied," he said.

Strong words.

Hollande must be commended for addressing the most important point that needs an outright, honest admission — that there is a strong, undeniable link between Islam and terrorism. This could be the first step towards accepting a reality that terrorism, which has come to represent the gravest threat to modern existence, cannot be fought with just military might and must be battled at the level of ideas.

And in that discussion around Islamist terrorism, liberals, intellectuals and political leaders must discuss a fundamental question — Why so many Muslims seem drawn to extremism?

The problem is not that world leaders such as Francois Hollande, Angela Markel, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton are unwilling to tackle the question, but that the prevalent discourse around terrorism is rendered ineffective and ultimately useless by the mind-bending political correctness and an obdurate denial to link it to Islam.

Even when perpetrators repeatedly evoke their unflinching faith in the greatness of god during the very acts of violence — as, for instance, they did during the Charlie Hebdo attacks or the present tragedy in Nice — there is stout insistence not to take the proclamations seriously.

Most analysts, liberals and political leaders are unwilling to identify such acts with the teachings of Islam and prefer to view them as a perversion of a religion that is essentially peace-loving and tolerant. They insist that it is a war against evil.

But the bitter truth that we fail to admit time and time again is that some people appear to be almost entirely motivated by their religious beliefs in carrying out the acts of violence. If the beliefs are taken away — as it is repeatedly done — then the acts carry in themselves little sense and no one is able to explain those except offer meaningless platitudes like: "every American stands in strong solidarity with the people of France and we shall not be intimidated," as Clinton did shortly after the tragedy in Nice. She might as well have lifted the words from her previous statement that was issued during the November 2015 Paris attacks, or the shooting in Orlando, or San Bernandino. It's an endless loop.

This presents the ideal situation for xenophobic and right wing forces to rise, as is being seen across Europe. Because the leaders of mainstream political parties worldwide are loathe to discuss the link between terrorism, Islam and the need for reform in the ancient religion, the truth has been completely outsourced to right wing leaders like Donald Trump in America or Marine Le Pen in France.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that all these are voices of bigotry or xenophobia. The overwhelming concern, when unarmed civilians going about their lives are attacked and killed, is lack of security and fear. And from that insecurity, people gravitate to the leader who promises them insulation from danger.

The Nice assault is the third major terrorist attack in France since the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre. In November, suicide bombers and shooters murdered 130 civilians in Paris, in cafes and at the Bataclan concert hall. Four other attacks of smaller scale in the last 18 months make the tally close to 240 dead with hundreds injured. Most of the terrorists were from immigrant descent and followers of Islam.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has made the deportation of illegal immigrants a cornerstone of his campaign for US presidency, tweeted: “Another horrific attack, this time in Nice, France,” he wrote on Twitter. “Many dead and injured. When will we learn? It is only getting worse.”

In France, Le Pen's popularity in the upcoming 2017 Presidential election is expected to soar after the latest spate of violence. It is not clear yet if Hollande will stand for re-election.

"This attack may nonetheless contribute to France’s sense that, with Islamist attacks on the rise and its old ally in the UK apparently in retreat, it has to take a more hawkish and assertive line to protect its citizens," said Richard Gowan, New York-based fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

A report in Guardian has a small anecdote. Manelle, aged five, had refused point blank to go to school after the November attacks in Paris.

"She’s terrified," said her mother. “She knows about the bad men who killed some people and she thinks they are coming here. I’ve kept her home with me today.”

It is evident why the right wing is rising across Europe.

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

Updated Date: Jul 15, 2016 19:50:47 IST