France church attack: Even if “youre not” a Catholic, this feels like a new and deeper wrap

Writer and Paris resident Andrew Hussey says that peoples need for answers is not being met and anger is rising

The killing of Pre Jacques Hamelin his faith in the Normandy town of Saint-tienne-du-Rouvray last week “isnt the first time” that the death of a French clergyman at the sides of Islamist militants has sent brandishes of excitement across France. In March 1996 seven monks from the Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibhirine near Mda in Algeria were kidnapped and held during two months before being killed, reportedly by members of the Groupe Islamique Arm, an Islamist group that was fighting the governments of France and Algeria. Their throats were cut and their severed heads were found hanging in trees or scattered by a roadside; the bodies were never recovered. A communiqu from the gunmen plainly read: They were denounced and executed because they were friars and Christians.

The French public was deep shaken. The carnages were announced on 26 May 1996. The next day, Whitsunday, a mass was celebrated in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. As part of the ceremony, the archbishop of Paris snuffed out seven candles that had been fetched from Tibhirine. Church bells rang out all over France. A daylight later a crowd of 10, 000 brought together in Paris in mourning. On 2 June, under heavy armed guard, a funeral mass for the victims was held in Algiers, watched by millions in France.

Eventually the story of the monks was acquired into a movie, Des Hommes et des Dieux ( Of Gods and Men ). On its secrete in 2010 the storey shortened French cinema gatherings not all of them faithful Catholics to tears.

There has been a same response to last-place Tuesdays murder. First, there has been outrage at the raw savagery. Then incredulity that such a horrific act could happen. Now there is a need to express sorrow and this has been communicated chiefly, sometimes unconsciously, in religion language.

The newspaper Le Parisien rimmed its front clothe in black, describing the murdered pastor as a martyr. Both publish and digital media applied old-fashioned statements, conjuring the saintly nature of the man and his death as a sacrilege.

The Catholic church said last Friday a daylight of prayeracross France; many churches were carried with non-believers as well as regular worshippers. Beings needed to come together; even if you couldnt understand what had happened, or find any discern convenience, there was a basic need to be with fellow human being in the face of such horror.

After a sleepless night, the morning after the murder I went to my local church, Saint-Pierre-de-Montrouge in the 14 th arrondissement in Paris. The atmosphere was sombre. Beings stood around the figurehead of the church in small-minded knots talking here about low voices. Subsequently, buying milk and other necessities at a Tunisian-owned shop on the Rue Didot, the owner noticed that I was English. You are luck, he said. You can leave France if you miss. If “youre staying” you will just see more of the same bad things.

This may be true, but this most recent criticize is not just more of the same bad things. In assaulting a religion and killing a pastor, Islamic State has once again changed the rules of the game. This is because it has now criticized something far less abstract and much more visceral in France than ideas such as democracy or secularism; it has attacked a sect an emotional bail which courses through and defines French record and cultural activities. This is why, even if you are not Catholic, this latest anger feels like a brand-new and much more profound wound.

The warning signs that this might happen have been there for some time. As far back as July 2015 Isis said in its French usage periodical Dar al-Islam that it would target churches in France. Only two months before this statement, a young woman called Aurlie Chtelain was shot dead in a botched attack on a church in Villejuif in Val de Marne. Since then, at times of heightened tension, faiths like synagogues have been protected by forearmed soldiers.

Alongside the horror and sorrow, there is also changing public anger at President Hollandes government. When the prime minister, Manuel Valls, inspected Nice shortly after the truck pogrom of 14 July, he was booed as he listened a hours silenceand there were posters announcing for the president to resign. The general look was that the government was not doing enough to stop the terrorists.

The frustration has now intensified as it has emerged that the two executioners of 85-year-old Jacques Hamel Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean had both been known to the security services, but still managed to steal under their radar. What is more, the failings of national governments and its security serviceshave been publicly highlighted in a French parliamentary commission report into last years terrorist incidents in Paris, from the grease-gun assaults in that January on the offices of Charlie Hebdo to the bombings and shootings in November at prohibits and restaurants and at the Bataclan concert hall. The initial influence of such reports, published on 5 July, was lost in the aftermath of the Nice attacks, but the mistakes and confusion it has identified have not ceased to exist. The head of the investigations, Georges Fenech, has said plainly that Today, our soldiers are being to be presented to struggle with soles of extend. Our intelligence services have failed.

Fenech finds the current problems back to the 2008 reforms of counter-terrorism led by Nicolas Sarkozy. These reforms in effect thinned out the grades of arena men and paid too much attention to international horror groups such as al-Qaida while ignoring the rapid growth of neighbourhood jihadis. In other statements, the French security services were searching in alone the incorrect counseling outwards rather than inwards; a massive tactical error.

But the present troubles go deeper than this. One of the main difficulties is that there are roughly 11 different agencies, from the prison services through to the differing filaments of military and police , now competing with each over the same abating bowl of fund. Worse, they do not contact properly with each other. Neither is there any plan to prevent radicalisation at grassroots level; “there hasnt” unified strategy, merely a panicked response to misfortune the whack-a-mole approach as police officer call it.

None of this is new. A couple of years ago, I called the prison of Fresnes, to the south of Paris. I had been invited by a elderly French official who wanted an intruder to see how things in France didnt work. In her book-lined agency, madame la directrice complained to me with cool temper that she could not restrict who was coming into her prison nor support follow-up when the prisoners left. And yet even back then everybody who had linked with the system is aware of the fact that the prisons were engine-rooms of radicalism boys penetrated as inessential delinquents and developed as dedicated terrorists. But nothing is likely to be done about this because of structural difficulties in the French administration.

Worse, right up until the November killings in Paris, the DGSI( Direction Gnrale de la Scurit Intrieure) and DGSE( Direction Gnrale de La Scurit Extrieure ), respectively the equivalents of MI5 and MI6, did not speak to each other. Most controversially, Fenech argues that the Bataclan killings could have been avoided if there had been better communication and co-ordination between agencies.

There is only one conclusion here: that it is precisely these flunks that preserve permitting Isis to write the script for France. This is, of course, too the debate of Marine Le Pen and the far-right Front National, who arguably stand to be the greatest political recipients of the climate of crisis. Almost immediately after last Tuesdays killing of Jacques Hamel, Marion Marchal-Le Pen, niece of Marine and a deputy to the National Assembly, shown: They are killing most children, slaughtering our police and slitting the throats of our priests. Its time to wake up!

Alarmingly, this populist hyperbole is even being therefore welcomed voters who would not usually think of supporting the Front National but who feel that those in charge are storytellers and charlatans. A deeper problem for Hollande is that Le Pen, and the even more fanatic groups who stand behind her, ought to have vindicated by recent events and the damning parliamentary report which helps to explain them.

But beyond the furious white noise, the far right has no real solutions either. It does not say this; instead it argues for most robust meters, zero tolerance and increased militarisation. Meanwhile, Hollandes government is paralysed, locked into a debate about how far the government can go with individual claims versus increased police strengths, and a standoff with Sarkozy, back again with presidential ambitions for 2017 and revisiting his favourite capacity as le premier flic de la France( the first polouse of France ).

Last Wednesday, Hollande, Valls and Sarkozy all accompanied a mass in adoration to the murdered priest Hamel at Notre Dame. They stepped together towards the altar in a show of solidarity. But the consensus that we are all in this together, which was determined in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings( and separated simply by Le Pen ), has long since deteriorated. In world, all line-ups are now at war with each other as well as with Isis.

The use of the word war has now become very common in France, as has the seeing of heavily armed troops on beaches, in city centres, in airfields and at railway stations; everywhere now is the front line. The display of these units is never reassuring; typically fairly the opposite. “Were talking”, more, of groups on the far right arming themselves, expecting difficulty, maybe seeking it out. In Corsica, an underground nationalist group has exhausted a communiqu warning Isis and warning neighbourhood Muslims to take a position against revolutionary Islam. The theme is accompanied by a photo of hooded beings in combat gear carrying handguns. Its hard to believe that this is happening, but its real.

Back in Saint-tienne-du-Rouvray, the faithful are still trying to come to periods with another form of world; with the impossible cruelty that has been seen upon them. Accompanying the local mass held for Hamel, a 43 -year-old woman who did not want to be mentioned told Le Monde : Its deplorable, I am terrifying but I cant facilitate thinking that it is all because of the Muslims and I cant stop myself going enraged when I assure a veiled lady or afraid of an Arab with a long beard in the street … I know Im stupid. I know that this is what they crave, to divide us.

The president of the French Council for the Muslim Faith, Anouar Kbibech, has announced on all Muslims to listen mass on Sunday to picture the solidarity and tendernes of the Muslims of France. The Catholic church at first carried official amaze but then welcomed the move as a royal and needed ordinance. There ought to have dark mutterings about security but the church has said that Muslims will be welcomed.

On the internet there has been renewed interest in the monks of Tibhirine. In particular the spiritual testament of one of the murdered friars, Christian de Cherg, has been supporting comfort to readers, in Arabic and French. Foretelling his death at the mitts of terrorists, he writes of his love of Algeria, Algerians and Islam and that, knowing Muslims, he knows, too, that Islamism is a imitation of Islam. If one day and it could be today I should be the victim of terrorism, he writes, I would want my community, my faith, my family to be noted that life was given to God … Amen. Inshallah.

On reading this I was reminded of the last duration I saw Algiers, climbing up to visit Notre Dame dAfrique, the church where the friars were laid to rest. On the esplanade outside, with a attitude of timbered constructs and the sea, you could easily be in Normandy. Inside, the place is tended by elderly French people who survived the years of campaign and fright that inspected Algeria in the 1990 s. There are DVDs on sale of the film Des Hommes et des Dieux a testimony to suspicion, religion and suffering. The rubric above the altar carries a meaning: Pray for Us and the Muslims.

Andrew Hussey is the author of The French Intifada: The Long War between France and its Arabs( Granta ).


7-9 January 2015

Said and Cherif Kouachi killed 12 beings at Charlie Hebdo s Paris offices. An affiliate of the brothers later shot dead a police officer before taking captives at a Jewish supermarket, killing four more people.

3 February 2015

Moussa Coulibaly attacked and injured three soldiers patrolling a construct housing the Jewish Consistory of Nice.

26 June 2015

A delivery driver beheaded a “mens and” attempted to blow up a gas mill in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier.

21 August 2015

Ayoub el-Khazani opened fire inside a qualify touring from Amsterdam to Paris before being overpowered by passengers.

13 -1 4 November 2015

Suicide bombers impressed outside the Stade de France in Paris. Shootings and bombings at restaurants and rails across the city, and inside the Bataclan concert hall, left 130 people dead and 300 injured.

13 June 2016

A police officer and his wife were jabbed to fatality at their home in Magnanville.

14 July 2016

Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a truck through a busy prom in Nice on Bastille day and shot into the crowd, killing 84 people, including 10 children.

26 July 2016

Adel Kermiche and an associate pussy the throat of an octogenarian priest as he said mass in Saint-tienne-du-Rouvray.

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