The hellish barbarism spreading in the Mideast has arrived in France

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By John J. Metzler

PARIS — The recurring terrorist attacks which have plagued France seem to have no bounds nor mercy. The murder of a Catholic priest saying Mass in a church near Rouen by two Islamic State thugs brought the crisis to a new low.

The daily Le Figaro headlined “Murdered by the Barbarians.” An editorial added that Father Jacques Hamel’s killing twelve days after the Nice massacre showed, “Islamic State was proving its sinister design: turning the world into a bloody theatre of war.”

Police near the church where a priest was killed in Saint Etienne du Rouvray.
Police near the church where a priest was killed in Saint Etienne du Rouvray.

French Religious leaders and the political class soundly condemned the killing with fine words, philosophical platitudes, prayers and calls for solidarity in what has become a ritual since the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, the November murder spree in Paris, and the recent truck carnage in Nice. Now again we have the tears.

The murder of Father Hamel, 86 years old, evoked the beheading of seven Catholic monks in 1996, but this was in Algeria albeit at the hands of local Islamic fundamentalists. It recalls the current carnage by Islamic State against the ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria.

But that is in the Middle East, not the cities and villages of France! Alas it is now here!

The chief Imam of the Paris Mosque clearly condemned the bloodshed and the killing of the priest: “This is an act outside of Islam and an act all French Muslims condemn and reject.”

Many synagogues, mosques and churches including the majestic Notre Dame already have constant protection but it’s difficult for the overstretched French police to watch 700 synagogues, 4,000 Protestant churches and 45,000 Catholic churches.

Throughout Europe during this sanguinary Summer, many of these killers acting in the name of Islamic State have used guns as in Munich, Germany, as well as axes, knives, and a refrigeration truck in Nice. This motorized medieval battering ram of a French Tunisian killer smashed into and killed 84 people and maimed dozens who were celebrating the 14 July National Day, the anniversary proclaiming Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Are we facing religious fanatics proclaiming a warped perversion of politicized Islam, mixed with modern technology, and spread via the internet and selfies? Does this bizarre cult of hate, usually born of petty delinquents and sometime drug users, who suddenly discover and embrace radical Islam, who wish to join the militant jihad in Syria and Iraq, also threaten the freedom of Europe itself? Many of its followers are actually French born but of North African origin.

These militants, often the denizens of a netherworld of delinquency and hateful jihadi politics, don’t fit a simple profile. They often speak of pursuing an austere near medieval Islam while at the same time streaming their acts on the internet and taking morbid cell phone selfies as if souvenirs for their return and repose in Hell.

Even the center-left weekly L’Express magazine headlined, a photo of socialist President Francois Hollande and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls, “In the Face of Terror: Can They Handle It?”

Christophe Barbier wrote in L’Express, “The shock wave of the Nice attack splintered national unity and put the authorities in a bad way: are they able to deal with the terrorist threat?’

And now try to balance this with respect for the French rule of law and democracy.

Paris is tense. People are justifiably nervous. A high police presence is backed by squads of camouflaged soldiers with assault rifles; this is extended beyond the usual airport and train station presence to roving patrols on the boulevards and streets of this majestic city. Even in quiet neighborhoods, squads of elite anti-terrorist police speed by, their faces covered in black balaclavas and machine guns pointed outwards. This is not a show but a depressing realization that the hate which has plagued Iraq, Syria and even Pakistan, has not forgotten France, Germany, nor Belgium.

The conservative Valeurs Actuelles, adds that “these Islamists wish to bring France to its knees.”

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy told an interview that the Left remains prisoner of the “intellectual schemes of the past.” He said France must show a “zero tolerance” against “radical Islamic terrorism.”

As Europe is confronted by another cycle of bloody violence, there are still many politicians and philosophers who seek the often complex rationalizations and remain in denial of the root causes even after Paris, Nice, Orlando, Munich and so many other places. Still, let us proudly shed tears for France.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]