France has decided to create a museum in memory of some 300 citizens killed in terrorist attacks over the past decade. It is a way of not only recognizing the suffering of French citizens, but also of drawing a line – between the random violence of terrorist organizations and the nation that must defend itself against it. The creators of the museum believe that this is a form of cultural “resistance” and a way for the French to cope with permanent aggression. Just a few months ago, a series of terrorist attacks in France and the beheading of a teacher not only underscored France’s terrorist threats – but also its struggle to respond to violence without harming its Muslim population. Precisely because there is not enough distance between the wounds of the past and the present, questions are asked about this project. Not just on whether the writers’ portrayal could border on glorification, or if the displays could trigger trauma. But also: will it be a step towards finding a way to heal France?
In its response to the murder of Samuel Paty and the Nice attacks, Emmanuel Macron’s government, it seems, has lost the appetite to find common ground. The power of the French state is now opposed to “Islamic separatism” and to a program to strengthen republican values. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, France embarked on this path, with a ban on the burqa and other Islamic veils. This time it has taken the form of an “anti-separatism” bill that will introduce several restrictions on the Muslim community and make legal an intensified scrutiny of their cases – that is, their profiling.
In the context of these protests, in the crisis of secularism in France to find a more accommodating language, a museum on terrorism plunges into the appropriation by the State of suffering to divide fellow citizens into “enemies” and ” permanent victims. Which will not help defeat terrorism.