Emmanuel Macron’s bold declaration last Friday that the Republic will eradicate Islamic extremism appeared to draw a swift response in Lyon.
On Saturday evening 12 masked men carried out a well-coordinated attack against a church in the suburb of Rillieux-la-Pape in what the Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin described as a ‘shock against the Republic’.
Attacks against churches and other symbols of Christianity are widespread in France; in 2017 there were 1,038 such acts recorded, a figure that rose to 1,063 the following year. Not all the attacks are carried out by Islamists. Some are vandalised by the bored or unhinged, and many are the work of the far-left. When Notre Dame Cathedral was badly damaged last year in an accidental fire, a branch of the French wing of Antifa declared: ‘The only church that illuminates is the one that burns.’
In his address last week Macron outlined a series of measures to tackle the growing influence of Islamic extremists that will be put before parliament in January. The French president explained that the Islamists’ objective is to create a ‘counter society’ and so far they have been successful. In a thinly veiled attack on the inertia of his predecessors, Macron said: ‘As we withdrew they pushed ahead with their project, methodically. And we let it happen.’
Macron’s pugnacious words are a vindication of sorts for the small band of brave men and women in France who for decades have warned of what extremists were up to. Since taking office Macron has sought the counsel of the Arabist Gilles Kepel, whose 1987 book, The Banlieues of Islam, was the first to shine a light on the emergence of the counter society. Then in 2001 came The Lost Territories of the Republic by Georges Bensoussan, a shocking exposé on how Islamic extremism had taken root in many parts of France.