Small Terrorist Attack in France Adds to Big Debate

Written by: Julie Schneiburg

 On Friday, March 23th,  tragedy struck in Trèbes, France, a small town that lies roughly 60 miles southeast of Toulouse. Islamic extremist Radouane Lakdim, a French-Moroccan of dual citizenship, first hijacked a car where he shot and wounded the driver and killed a passenger. He then proceeded to leave the car in the parking lot of a supermarket, and at about 11:15 am, he entered the building. In the store were roughly 50 shoppers, and Lakdim killed two people on the spot. Many of the people managed to escape through emergency exists or hide. Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, a police officer who is being honored in France for his heroic acts, entered the supermarket unarmed in exchange for one of the hostages held by Lakdim. The officer was inside the market for about two hours facing the gunman. He was then seriously wounded by a gunshot and died overnight due to his injuries. Upon hearing the gunfire, surrounding police officers rushed inside and killed the gunman. Following the attack, the Islamic State claimed responsibility. President Emmanuel Macron issued a statement praising Colonel Beltrame for his courage and announced that a national tribute would be dedicated to him in his memory.

In the last three years, nearly 250 people have died in terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State in France. These include 17 casualties at the mass shooting at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in January of 2015, 130 in the Paris attacks of November 2015, and 86 in the Bastille day attacks in Nice in July of 2016. Following the November Paris attacks, France was placed under a state of emergency, which was lifted late last year. Recently, there have been sporadic “lone-wolf” attacks throughout the country, which is how France would categorize the attack by Lakdim. Efforts are being made to reduce these incidents, but like many controversial issues, the public nor the government can come to an agreement on a solution.

France has received a lot of criticism for their unsuccessful attempts at reducing these attacks. Specifically, the French government has been condemned for not taking more action on their active watch list, a list of over 15,000 individuals suspected of radical Islamic behavior. Marine Le Pen, a far-right politician who lost to Macron in the presidential election last spring, has criticized Macron for failing to handle those on the list with more severity such as expulsion from the country for those who are not natural born citizens. With more and more attacks, the pressure is on for France and its officials to address the persistent threat of terrorism. With over 5.7 million Muslim residents making up 8.8% of their total population, France is in desperate need of an answer to the question: how can France stop these terrorist attacks without demonizing its millions of innocent Muslim citizens?

One thing is certain, France should avoid following in the United States’s footsteps. Since the 2016 American presidential election, President Trump has been open about his anti-Islamic ideologies. In November, Trump used his favorite social media platform, Twitter, to share three videos from a British ultra-nationalist group. The videos portrayed Muslims committing violent crimes with titles such as “Muslim Destroys a Statue of the Virgin Mary.” No president in the modern age has promoted controversial content of this sort, and for good reason. The spread of these videos has only added to the heavy stigma surrounding those of the faith, putting Muslim American citizens in danger of hate crimes. Anti-muslim assaults in 2016 surpassed those reported in 2001 after 9/11. France risks dealing with similar incidents and therefore they must proceed with caution. While terrorism is an important issue that needs to be dealt with, promoting negative attitudes towards innocent people is not the approach the United States or France should take.