Seven years ago on Friday, a 31-year-old man got behind the wheel of a 19-tonne lorry and purposefully drove it down Nice’s Promenade des Anglais at speed as crowds celebrated France’s Bastille Day. Eighty-six people were killed, including 14 children, the image of an infant’s corpse wrapped in foil beside a toy shocking a country that had grown wearily used to violence.
The previous November, 130 people had been murdered across Paris in a series of attacks which reached their most intense savagery at the Bataclan. This followed earlier atrocities that year at the Charlie Hebdo office and a Jewish supermarket in the French capital. In all cases the attackers were of North African origin, although often born and raised in France.
Visiting the country that summer felt quite strange, with soldiers stationed at every conceivable public place amid a sense of acute tension. Even in a small village fête in Provence, four soldiers and four armed police walked around guarding all entrances. It brought back childhood memories of Northern Ireland, and of visiting Israel during the Second Intifada. Indeed, this was the phrase that had started to be used to describe the state of emergency: the French Intifada.
The recent violence in Paris and elsewhere, which saw attempts to ram the home of a mayor, once again highlighted the trouble the country has with integration. But the French police union describing themselves as being ‘at war with vermin’ illustrated a different mindset to the English-speaking world, and a far more belligerent approach to the problems of diversity.
Like Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, France has had difficulties assimilating the children of immigrants from beyond Europe, yet its recent history has proved especially violent and troubled. Britain has jihadi terrorism – 2017 was especially grim – but it has never reached such intensity. Last