France: Is There a Way Out?

Actors from the Globe Theatre performing Hamlet for refugees and migrants in the Jungle refugee camp, Calais, France, February 2016
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Actors from the Globe Theatre performing Hamlet for refugees and migrants in the Jungle refugee camp, Calais, France, February 2016

On the morning of Thursday, January 7, French President François Hollande made his way in the rain to the Paris police headquarters on the Île de la Cité, just two months after the coordinated Islamist attacks of November 13, 2015, that killed 130 people and wounded over 350 at the Bataclan concert hall and several restaurants and cafés. He was there to commemorate the anniversary of last January’s terrorist operation that left dead twelve people at the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, one policewoman near a Jewish school in a Parisian suburb, and four others in a kosher market near the Porte de Vincennes. The commemoration was not about moving on. Hollande thanked the police and fire departments for their sacrifices in the fight against terrorism, and explained that the end was not in sight. He then placed a large wreath at the monument for fallen officers in the building’s grim courtyard.

While he was speaking, a young Tunisian man named Tarek Belgacem approached the local police station in the gritty immigrant neighborhood La Goutte d’Or. As he was about to reach the guard he shouted “Allahu Akbar” and drew out a meat cleaver. When he ignored orders to halt, he was shot dead. Officers noticed wires coming out from his coat and found that he was wearing a fake explosive vest. In his pocket was a rambling testament, with a drawing of an ISIS flag, pledging allegiance to the caliphate. In subsequent days it was revealed that he had been crisscrossing Europe for years committing petty crimes. Most recently he had been living under one of his many pseudonyms in a German refugee asylum where he drew attention for painting an ISIS insignia on his wall and taking photos of himself with an ISIS flag.

The following day, a Friday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls made a moving speech at the kosher market, declaring that “without the Jews of France, France would not be France” and deploring the fact that a small but growing number of them are leaving the country out of fear. On Monday, as if in response to his statement, a fifteen-year-old Turkish Kurd living in Marseille attacked with a knife a Jewish teacher wearing a kippa, who was on his way to work, apparently trying to decapitate him. The student told police that he had committed the act in the name of Allah and ISIS and then made threatening statements against the French army for “protecting the Jews.” The next day the leader of Marseille’s largest Jewish organization urged Jewish men to “hide a little” and not wear their kippas until…


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