A week ago, the deadly attack of an insane man on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice caused the death of 84 people. His name was Mohamed Lahaouiej Bouhlel and he was not a “lone wolf.” His murderous plan – according to the latest news to the press by anti-terrorist prosecutor François Molins – was not the impromptu gesture of a “swifly radicalized” individual. It was planned months ahead. And while there is still no evidence of a link with Daesh, it became clear that Bouhlel was part of a network of contacts that “sustained him in the preparation and implementation” of the massacre. Monsignor Georges Pontier is the president of the French bishops. He lives in Marseille, a few kilometers from Nice, a port town, a crossroads of peoples and cultures.
Only eight months since the attacks in Paris, France is again facing the terrorist nightmare. How did you live this latest attack?
It was a terrible attack, carried out on July 14, our national holiday, a day of national unity, a festive day to be with the family, celebrated with a wide range of events. Sadly, we were all well aware that sooner or later we would be facing yet another tragic occurrence. Our political leaders had said so. We also knew that we were exposed to this risk in the light of the present situation at international level. The European football championship had just ended and there had been no difficulties in this regard. Instead, the tragedy occurred a few days after the conclusion of Euro 2016, and it affected us with violent, barbarous, irrational ferocity, attacking a crowd consisting mostly of children, families, of the local inhabitants of Nice as well as foreign tourists.
We were destabilised and perhaps we should begin to expect more attacks of this kind. It might not be the last …
On the night of the attack French bishops promptly sent out a tweet stating: “national solidarity must be stronger than terrorism.” Do you think that the terrorist threat could divide France, instead of uniting the suffering Country?
We are aware that this form of terrorism – along with the ways in which its attacks are carried out – could cause divisions amongst the European and the French population with diverse backgrounds. It might not only divide us, it also could put us against each other. French citizens with Muslim background are the primary targets. They are being accused of standing with these insane people.
The appeal to national solidarity calls upon all French people to identify themselves as French, notwithstanding their ethnic or religious background.
You want to know if terrorism could divide France? I don’t think so. But I can’t hide the fact that the possibility exists and that populist stances support this drift, creating frictions among the French population. Our national unity is not being jeopardised, but it could happen in the future.
Corporatism and accusations can often be irrational.
The police and the government have been accused of not deploying enough law officers in Nice. One week after the massacre security is at the centre of heated debates. What is your opinion?
Unfortunately national elections will be held next year, while the presidential primary is due to take place in the coming months. Unfortunately when addressing security issues, in one way or the other these issues are bound to become the object of political exploitation. In such cases there is the tendency to emerge as the party with the strongest stand, in order to be seen as the primary defender of the Country by the public at large. If mistakes were made, they won’t be ascertained by media outlets or by politicians. It’s up to the police and to justice to establish the facts with an investigation, which, as I understand, is presently underway. The outcomes of the investigation will tell us the truth. All the rest only foments divisions and is a result of the climate ahead of the upcoming elections.
What has France done wrong in the past if today the Country is facing a young, powerful enemy, full of hatred?
It’s hard to give a simple answer to this question. We could find a thousand reasons to explain why some young people living their life with so much distress, and a thousand reasons for the historical moment our Country is going through. France made mistakes, and what were these mistakes? Indeed, France did make mistakes just as Italy, or Germany or England did in the course of their history. From what I understand, these groups that are threatening us inside our Countries constitute an even greater threat to Muslim countries. The current situation in Syria and Iraq is deeply tragic. Here in Europe we are facing a radicalization that strikes a chord with fragile, over-ideologized individuals.
The dramatic reality that we are facing is the homicidal frenzy of this ideology that takes hold everywhere.
Have we made mistakes? Perhaps we made more mistakes compared to others. We have a history of colonization that ended earlier, compared to other Countries. The consequences of those historical events could have dragged on until today. But at the same time it should be said that the large majority of citizens of foreign background, born and raised in France, have incessantly condemned these attacks commissioned by Daesh and that those citizens must in no way to be held accountable. I also wish to add that Muslims are the first ones to suffer for the negative image of their religion and community.
Which future should we hope for?
The solution? I’ll give you two: to consider every human being as a son and daughter of God, similar to myself, thus as our partner in a process of dialogue and mutual respect. Namely, to do whatever is
the opposite of hatred,
We need to establish relationships based on mutual esteem. The second solution is to take action – not only words – to change the mentality in our Country, for a change of heart. If nobody contributes then nothing will ever change. I have great respect for what Italy has been doing for decades in the reception of populations living in Countries where there is no more life, who come to Europe in search of a better future. Thus there is little we can do compared to what Italy has been doing for decades, but we have to try.