Tue, Jul 26, 2016 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE: Nice attack reopens rifts in French society


A man on Monday last week throws garbage onto the spot where Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was killed by police on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France.

Photo: AFP

The Bastille Day attack in Nice — the third terrorist attack to hit France in 18 months — has sparked anger and racism, putting further strain on an already tense political atmosphere.

“What is clear is that it has brought to the surface the fault lines which were always there but which were not so apparent,” sociologist Michel Wieviorka told reporters.

“When people can boo the [French] prime minister and talk in an openly racist way,” norms have been shaken, he said.

French President Francois Hollande has said “anger is legitimate” in the wake of the July 14 attack in Nice, in which Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel killed 84 people as he rammed a truck through a crowd watching fireworks for France’s national day.

“After such a shock, anger is legitimate, because our compatriots were killed, and innocent people hit,” Hollande said. “But it cannot degenerate into hate and suspicion.”

In Nice, rubbish has been heaped on the spot on the Promenade des Anglais where Bouhlel — who the Islamic State group has claimed as one of its “soldiers,” although investigators have found no direct proof of allegiance — was finally shot dead.

Chalked on the ground next to the heap of rubbish is the word “coward.”

However, some of the anger has also been directed at Muslims — even though, as the city’s mayor said, they were “probably the worst hit by this attack.”

According to local imams, about a third of the dead were Muslims.

Even at a minute’s silence in the Riviera city for the victims on Monday last week, anger and hatred boiled over as a video which has been viewed more than 6 million times on Facebook makes clear.

“Go back to where you come from,” a middle-aged man shouted at a young woman of North African origin.

“I was born in France, sir,” she replied. “Where should I go?”

“You are a shame on France,” he shouted back, with some in the crowd supporting him, as a policeman stepped in to intervene.

At the same ceremony, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was a target for sustained booing, with people shouting out that he should resign.

“Violence is lurking a bit everywhere in France,” Wieviorka said, referring to months of clashes at nationwide street protests against changes to the country’s labor laws.

“We are experiencing something which is being made worse by the political context with presidential [and parliamentary] terms coming to an end. All this creates conditions which maximize the impact of terror,” the sociologist added.

In contrast with the huge street protests that united France after the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket killings in January last year, the Nice attack has poisoned the political climate.

Nine months from May next year’s presidential election, the right and far-right opposition parties are lambasting the ruling Socialists, whose popularity has sunk to a record low.

French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve has come under intense pressure to resign, claiming that he was the victim of an “undignified” campaign to discredit him orchestrated by Nice’s right-wing former mayor Christian Estrosi.

The row became even uglier on Sunday when a senior policewoman said the minister had pressured her to alter a report into security in Nice on the night of the attack.

Cazeneuve categorically denied the allegations and threatened to sue.

Her claims came only days after local authorities resisted a request to wipe “shocking” security camera footage of the carnage which prosecutors said they feared might leak out.

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