The Jakarta Post
When world leaders join France in condemning the act of terrorism that claimed the lives of three people at a church in Nice on Thursday, there is a reason to worry about so-called dueling extremisms now creeping over French soil, and perhaps across Europe.
The Nice attack came less than two weeks after a Chechen refugee beheaded teacher Samuel Paty in the northern Paris suburb of Éragny for showing cartoons published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo depicting the Prophet Muhammad to his students in his class. For Muslims, visualization of the Prophet is highly offensive.
In the context of secularism that has shaped France as it is today, Paty was doing no wrong in propagating freedom of expression, a value that laid the foundation of the nation known as a beacon of democracy. It came as no surprise, therefore, when President Emmanuel Macron hailed Paty as a “hero” for representing the secular, free-thinking values of the Republic, which in the case of Charlie Hebdo could mean freedom to offend a religion, and denounced radical Islamists for perpetrating the murder.
However, Macron’s statement has ignited anger in the Muslim world, including Indonesia, the world’s largest predominantly Muslim country. Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, a respected figure in Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which is regarded as a representation of moderate Islam, was quoted by his spokesman as expressing concern about the perpetuation of Islamophobia in Europe, which runs counter to Indonesia’s championing of Islam as a blessing for the universe.
It is unlikely that all the pressure, even threats to boycott French products, will change France. Nor will Indonesia’s preaching of Islam as a peaceful and just religion that can coexist with democracy and respect human rights.
France had seen a series of terrorist attacks, even before gunmen murdered 12 people in the office of Charlie Hebdo in 2015. All these acts of terrorism unified France as a nation of diverse cultures and religions.
But the controversy surrounding the satirical magazine, including the 2015 killings and the most recent attacks, appears to have unveiled the tensions in France, home to about 6 million Muslims. The majority of French Muslims do not condone Islamic extremism and have condemned the stabbings in Nice and Paty’s killing, but experts fear they are prone to stigma and labeling.
Following the serial attacks, social scientists have pointed to a misinterpretation of France’s long-held faith in secularism. While on the one hand it cannot force someone to follow a religion, on the other hand it is not supposed to prevent people from following their religion, which is what occurs when the wearing of the niqab and burqa by Muslim women is banned.
The repercussions of the latest terrorist attacks can be more worrying if they take the form of right-wing extremism. Just hours after the Nice attack, police in Avignon, 260 kilometers away, shot dead a man who refused to drop the handgun he had used to threaten a North African trader. The police said the man, who had previously received psychiatric treatment, was wearing a blue jacket bearing the logo of Defend Europe, a far-right, anti-immigrant group.