Truck attack in Nice — why France?

If you live in France, you enjoy Bastille Day. There is a buzz in the air as you celebrate a day off in the middle of summer with your family and friends. You go to the fireworks.

It is good to be in France and to remember the founding principles of the state – liberty, equality and fraternity. There is little mention of a bloody history of revolution and wars, colonialism and empire.

Now, after the horrific Nice truck attack that killed at least 84 people – including many children – and injured at least 100 others, one question is being asked more than most: why France?

France has a long history of both protest and terrorist attacks. When I lived and worked in Paris as an Irish diplomat in the late 1980s, a German diplomat was assassinated, allegedly by a Kurd extremist.

Stringent anti-terrorism legislation was introduced at that time due to a number of attacks on the capital – and over the last few decades these attacks have come from different groups.

It would be foolish to imply the perpetrator of these attacks speaks for even disaffected groups in France. It would be simple to suggest that France’s North African communities are involved in this attack in Nice. It is also not appropriate to commence a witch-hunt on Muslims in France.

On July 14, France was celebrating its liberty – and that includes freedom of expression for the media, as seen in the case of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

France was rejoicing in its commitment to equality – even if that is often presented as strict adherence to secularism, or laïcité, the term used to deny any organised religion a special place in French society, with strict church-state separation.

It is about secular principles always being more important than religious beliefs, which are regarded as the private sphere. Continue reading 

  • Philomena Murray is Professor, School of Social and Political Sciences, and EU Centre on Shared Complex Challenges, University of Melbourne.
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