A warning from 20 retired army generals that the ‘Islamist hordes of the banlieue’ are causing France to disintegrate has been dismissed by the government. But as the terrorist atrocities continue, many citizens share their fears.
Although France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, the simmering tensions over Islam’s place in the secular republic are only ever a news cycle away from boiling over.
In the space of just a week, there has been controversy over a court decision to free a killer without charge, the murder of a police worker on the steps of her station and a call to arms from a group of retired generals who warn the actions of Islamist “hordes in the banlieue” risk the disintegration of the country and civil war.
Frankly, it’s hard to keep up. But while President Emmanuel Macron’s officials dismiss as bitter pensioners a gang of retired military types who probably still rue the day President Charles de Gaulle put Algeria on the path to independence – and chose the 60th anniversary of an attempted coup by his generals to air their own grievances – they do deserve some respect, and even recognition of their views.
They make no bones about it. “France is disintegrating,” 20 retired generals and another 80 officers wrote in a letter published by Valeurs Actuelles magazine.
“Disintegrating with the Islamists of the hordes of the banlieue who are detaching swathes of the nation and turning them into territory subject to dogmas contrary to our constitution,” they continued.
“It is no longer time to procrastinate, otherwise tomorrow the civil war will put an end to this growing chaos, and the deaths, for which you will bear the responsibility, will number in the thousands.”
Strong language, for sure, but maybe they are right. All too often another Islamist atrocity takes place on French soil. Over the past four years, 14 attacks carried out in the name of radical Islam have resulted in the deaths of 25 people in France, and 36 others have been foiled, according to the government.
The most recent was Friday, when mother-of-two Stéphanie Monfeture, a 49-year-old police worker, had her throat cut in the entrance hall of the Rambouillet police station by a 36-year-old Tunisian national, identified only as Jamel G, shouting the terrorist mantra of “Allahu Akbar”.
Unsurprisingly, bearing in mind the location, the killer was shot dead by police at the scene. While brutal in nature, Mme Monfeture’s attacker was the recipient of a swift reprisal, which may lead to some sense of justice, more than Sarah Halimi’s family and friends will ever receive.
Because a court has decided not to send to trial the 27-year-old man who attacked, stabbed and threw the 65-year-old Jewish woman, a retired doctor and kindergarten teacher, who was his neighbour, from her third-floor balcony while repeatedly crying “Allahu Akbar!”
The court agreed with a panel of psychiatrists that Kobili Traoré was so stoned on marijuana during the attack on Mme Halimi in 2017 that he could not be held criminally responsible, and therefore would not face trial.
Critics of the decision compared the case with that of a 51-year-old Marseille man, who while drunk and on cocaine threw his neighbour’s French bulldog from a fourth floor window on New Year’s Eve and claimed he remembered nothing about it. He was handed a two-year prison sentence, with a year suspended.
Considering what appears to be a gross miscarriage of justice and the relentless bloody assaults on regular French citizens going about their daily lives, you start to understand where the generals are coming from.
And being generals of the retired variety, of course there is no need for temperate language. Just ensure you grab the attention of the damn fools in charge, and see how they respond.
National Rally leader Marine Le Pen quickly moved to side with the generals. “As a citizen and as a woman politician, I subscribe to your analysis and share your suffering,” she wrote in response.
Opportunism, certainly, but at least she acknowledged the generals had a point. Which is more than defence minister Florence Parly was prepared to do, preferring to attack Le Pen over her apparent attempt to politicise the military.
“Wanting to politicise the armies is to weaken France,” the minister scolded. “Shame on those who, for personal interest, weaken France. The army of the Republic is at the service of the nation. And no one else.”
It wasn’t just Le Pen she was pointing her finger at either. The grumpy generals were the prime target: “20 irresponsible retired generals who represent only themselves,” she said. “Who are these retired generals who claim to defend France as they fan the flames of hatred? Who are these retired generals who claim to fight the ‘disintegration’ of France by threatening a civil war?”
The defence minister chose to shoot the messenger. However, with the body count of terrorist victims continuing to rise and the French government struggling to win the public’s faith over the way it deals with radical Islamism, maybe Mme Parly should have chosen a more conciliatory approach.
After all, while it’s easy to discount a bunch of retirees, maybe more thought should have been given to the message this dismissive attitude sends to the families of Stéphanie Montfeture and Sarah Halimi.