John Keiger

How Macron reacts to the Nice attack will be critical

How Macron reacts to the Nice attack will be critical
A soldier stands guard at the scene of today's knife attack in Nice (Getty images)
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The suspected terrorist attack in Nice’s Notre Dame Basilica this morning appears to be the third such incident in France in the last few weeks. Two female worshippers and a man thought to be the Basilica’s sexton had their throats slit by an assassin who, it is claimed, cried 'Allahu Akbar' after being shot and wounded by French police.

A crisis unit has been set up at the Interior Ministry. France has jumped to urgent terror alert. Emmanuel Macron is flying down to Nice. His words will be listened to across France and worldwide. Things are at a tipping point.

An emotional Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, has called for ‘Islamo-fascism to be wiped from our territory’. Marine Le Pen has called for ‘war legislation’ to deal with Islamists in France. The spokesman of the French Bishops Conference warned against Christians becoming ‘instrumentalised’ in the struggle underway. In Saudi Arabia, a guard at the French Consulate General was attacked by a knifeman a few hours ago. 

Today is the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed; in three days, Christians worldwide will celebrate All Saints Day. The president of French Council of Muslim Faith has condemned the attack and asked Muslims to postpone their celebrations as a sign of support for Christians. 

Nationally, and internationally, France is walking a tightrope following president Macron’s defence of the publication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons (see my recent Spectator article). However much we agree with France’s right and duty to defend its values, that stance does not demand courage alone. It requires true statesmanship from president Macron, not mere theatre. He has an opportunity given Turkey’s condemnation of the Nice attack. He more than most knows the power of words. Now could be his finest moment.

Written byJohn Keiger

John Keiger is a professor of French history and former research director of the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge.

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