“If we are attacked, once again, it is for our values, our taste for freedom, the possibility on our soil to believe freely”, declared President Emmanuel Macron, after speaking with the police and emergencies of the Notre-Dame basilica of the Mediterranean city. “We will not give up anything.”
The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, who accompanied Macron on his visit to the site, said in a series of statements and videos on Twitter that it appeared that a woman had been beheaded at around 9 a.m. on Thursday, but gave no details of how the other two were killed. He said a suspect had been arrested.
There were at least two more knife attacks in France on Thursday, while in Saudi Arabia, an assailant hit a guard with a sharp object outside the French consulate in the city of Jeddah on the Red Sea. Macron linked the murders.
The French president is now facing two massive crises – a resurgence of jihadist violence and the coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, the lockdown, which will come into effect from Friday to prevent Covid from spreading further and overwhelming hospitals, will keep people off the streets while increased police powers can help security forces focus on the fight against terrorism.
The number of soldiers mobilized for the internal security operation Sentinel will be increased to 7,000 from 3,000, with orders to protect churches and schools, Macron said. He will convene a security cabinet on Friday.
“France is not the country of contempt or rejection, it is the country of tolerance, do not listen to the voices which seek to arouse mistrust”, declared the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian at the National Assembly in Paris. “Muslim religion and culture are part of our French and European history, we respect it.”
It was a clear attempt to quell a wave of anti-French sentiment that has been stirred since Macron earlier this month described the measures he says he says enforce the republic’s secular values in a bid to counter extremist ideology. He described Islam as a religion “in crisis”, while stressing the need not to stigmatize Muslims.
After Samuel Paty was beheaded on October 16 for showing his students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Macron said France was engaged in an “existential” battle and, at the professor’s memorial, noted that “we do not ‘let’s not give up on cartoons. In France, the right to blasphemy is enshrined in law as part of freedom of expression, but for many Muslims any portrayal of the Prophet is deeply offensive.
All this has led to calls to boycott French products in some Muslim countries, with the launch of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogana personal attack on Macron and suggesting that he was showing religious intolerance. And in the social media echo chamber, extremists have called the French leader’s words over the past month declaring a “crusade.”
“We can see in the drama, as we move quickly from virtual hatred to real violence, words and actions have consequences, and engage their perpetrators in responsibility, and France never forgets,” said Le Drian. “We never compromise on our values of humanism and freedom, and on our model of democracy and pluralism.”
In Nice, Estrosi’s words showed how the tone hardened in France following the tragedies.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “It is now time for France to evade the laws of peacetime to definitively destroy the Islamo-fascism of our territory. ”
– With the help of Rudy Ruitenberg
(Addition of the comments of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the first, sixth paragraphs.)