No wonder French losing faith in Hollande’s war on terror

Opinion polls show the French are losing faith in their president to lead the fight on terrorism and, given some of the government’s priorities, perhaps it’s no surprise, writes Ben McPartland.

No wonder French losing faith in Hollande's war on terror
A protester uses a play on words to tell Hollande he is disapointing them. Photo: AFP

Since being elected Hollande has hardly enjoyed the backing of the French public.

They lost trust in his ability to solve record unemployment and a floundering economy a long time ago, but when it came to terror and “war”, Hollande seemed to have the confidence of the people.

Amid the shock and the grief of two terror attacks, Hollande for once gave the impression of being in control of the country as he vowed not to give in to terror and insisted France’s principles of liberté and laicité would win through. 

But it appears his convincing impersonation of a wartime leader has worn off with a poll this week showing that six out of ten respondents do not trust him to lead the fight on terror, a rise since a similar poll was taken last in November.

While the change in feeling was not explained it could be that public have grown tired of Hollande's unhelpful talk of being at “war” that sparked memories of George Bush's post 9/11 rhetoric.

Or it may be linked to Hollande's new found love for right and even far right policies.

The move to strip dual nationals of French citizenship if they are convicted of terror offences – an idea seemingly lifted from the far right – has got him into a real pickle.

This policy, which will be discussed by parliament later this month appears ludicrous given that most experts – and even Hollande's own Prime Minister – agree it will do nothing to dissuade terrorists from attacking France.

Experts argue the text of law is unworkable and it may take years of costly court battles before someone is stripped of their citizenship and deported.

He has already lost popular minister Christiane Taubira because of the move, dismissed by many as nothing but symbolic.

“Let us dare say it: A country should be able to handle its own nationals. What would become of the world if every country deported birthright citizens considered undesirable? Should we imagine a landfill where they will all be put together?” Taubira wrote in a new book to be published on Tuesday.

Possibly worse than the notion of France “not being to handle its own citizens” is that the move risks making matters worse.

Many of those three to five million dual nationals, who may understandably feel stigmatized by the policy, will be second and third generation Muslim immigrants from North African countries.

These are the type of young people who are already disaffected, living in the poor suburbs on the edge of French cities and are particularly vulnerable to falling into the hearts and minds of Isis.

“These people will feel stigmatized, left aside from everyone else and considered different,” Patrick Baudouin, honorary president of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) told The Local.

“They will look at France and its principles of liberté, égalité and fraternité and think those are just words because in reality they don't exist.”

That of course, is exactly what Isis chiefs would want.

SEE ALSO: Liberté losing out in France's 'war' on terror

Patrick Weil, an author and expert on citizenship and identity, is one of those who have ridiculed the French government for the stripping of citizenships plan.

He is one of many who believe the focus and energy of Hollande and his government should be better spent on finding ways that would really reduce the terror threat facing France.

“Hollande should instead be thinking about how to unite the country,” Weil said at a meeting of the Anglo American Press Association, as as well as suggesting that reforms of the police and security services would have a more positive impact on battling terrorism.

Weil says France also need a change of mentality towards its religious minorities. 

“Let's stop talking about them being Muslims, but let's just say 'French from Algeria', just like we say 'French from Brittany',” he said. “Let's stop thinking about them on religious grounds.”

More and more voices are also speaking up against Hollande's plan to extend the state of emergency until May, which the French parliament will also vote on later this month.

While the emergency powers have allowed the government to carry out thousands of house raids and place scores of people under house arrest, only a handful of terrorism investigations have been launched as a result and only one man has been put on trial.

France says it has foiled a number of terror attacks in recent months, not as a result of the emergency powers, but classic counter-terrorism surveillance and intelligence operations.

Many in the Muslim community feel their members are being unfairly targeted with reports of night time raids that yield nothing and just leave behind more resentment towards French authorities.

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) says it has received 228 complaints since the emergency laws went into effect, including 57 related to house arrests.

Another who has been critical of France’s response to the terror attacks is author and journalist Nicolas Henin, who was a one-time prisoner of Isis before being released.

“I have a suggestion for Manuel Valls. Let’s maintain the state of emergency until the next attack, just to show that it’s useless,” he tweeted.

Despite the public's apparent loss of faith Hollande knows however that his measures are still popular, with polls suggesting a majority of French are in favour of the move to strip citizenships from dual nationals as well as extending the state of emergency.

But it looks more and more like a case of Hollande taking action just to please a fearful public rather than them being pleased by how he is handling the situation.

Esther Benbassa, a Green party senator says Hollande's policies are now being dictated with the 2017 presidential election in mind.

“I call it cosmetic politics,” she told RFI radio

And it looks like the French are slowly seeing through it.


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US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.