TerrorismIslamism: How Terror Attacks Have Shocked France

Published 13 November 2020

According to official data by Europol, France has witnessed more jihadist attacks than any other European Union member since 2014, when the Islamic State (IS) established its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Nearly 300 French citizens have died in those attacks.

Over the past five years, France has been particularly affected by terrorist attacks.

DW discussed the situation with essayist and professor of German literature and intercultural studies at Sorbonne Nouvelle University Jürgen Ritte, a German-French translator who has been living in Paris for the past thirty-three years.

DW: The attack on the Bataclan concert hall, on the Charlie Hebdo editorial offices, on people celebrating in Nice, and more recently a teacher decapitated near Paris and a knife attack at a church in Nice — would you say they all were aimed at the heart of French society?
Jürgen Ritte
: Yes, that’s what makes it particularly disgusting. High-ranking politicians are protected, but institutions open to everyone were targeted. Church buildings are open to the public, schools are open in so far as the exits aren’t usually guarded. The middle of society was chosen; it is the only safe target.

DW: Has something gone wrong in France, also with regard to coming to terms with the colonial past? Did the media perhaps play down issues like the role of Islam, and not put enough focus on the lack of integration?
: People invariably make that connection but we are talking about two different things. It is difficult to speak of a failed integration policy when, as in Nice, you are dealing with an assassin who was in France for just a few hours.

It is also difficult to speak of failed integration when you are dealing with the son of a Chechen asylum-seeker who fled Chechnya during the war that Russia waged there, and now the son thinks he has to continue the war in some way by killing a teacher he doesn’t even know. I can’t see that as a matter of failed integration. It is simply murder, and criminal organizations are involved.

DW: You teach both literature and journalism at the Sorbonne. How do you deal with issues like radicalization of Islam and social injustice, issues that are all connected?
: There is no denying that France has social problems in some of the major cities’ peripheral districts. The state has indeed failed there. It has pulled out and does not take care of the people crammed into public housing projects. It has failed because it has abandoned the teachers in the schools with overcrowded classes and because, like in Marseille, police officers don’t even venture there because they fear attacks by drug dealers.