Deadly church attack casts spotlight on religion in secular France

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This week’s grisly murder of an 86-year-old priest in an assault on a church near Rouen in northwest France has cast a spotlight on religion in a country that is one of the most secular in Europe.

French President François Hollande held talks with the leaders of the country’s different religions on Wednesday, a day after two assailants stormed a parish church in the Rouen suburb of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, killing Father Jacques Hamel and wounding four others in an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

Following the meeting with Hollande, leaders of the country’s Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities showed a united front. “We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into the politics of Daesh, which wants to set the children of the same family against each other,” the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, said using an alternative name for the IS group.

Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, described the attack as a "blasphemous sacrilege which goes against all the teachings of our religion".

French authorities have long feared an assault of this kind. The IS group – which has claimed responsibility for three major attacks in France in less than 19 months – often refers to Westerners in its propaganda as "crusaders", calling on its followers to strike the enemy where they are most vulnerable.

“We’ve known for a long time that all religious sites, no matter which faith, are considered a target by Daesh and its associates in France,” Eric Danon, an international security expert and general director of the Superior Council of Training and Strategic Research (Conseil Supérieur de la Formation et de la Recherche Stratégiques), told FRANCE 24, using an alternative name for the IS group.

Yet France, which is known for its deeply entrenched secularist values, is one of the least religious countries in Europe, if not the world.

According to a 2012 study by WIN/Gallup International, 29 percent of respondents in France identified themselves as a “confirmed atheist”, making it the fourth largest population of declared atheists in the world, behind China, Japan and the Czech Republic. Thirty-four percent described themselves as “not religious”, while only 37 percent said they were a “religious person”.

The findings reflected those by an earlier survey in 2004 by the European Commission’s Eurobarometer, which showed that only 33 percent of people in France tended to “trust religious institutions”.

The IS group’s goal in targeting religious sites such as the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray is to divide France by pitting the country’s different communities against one another, according to Danon.

“You’ve had an attack against the Jewish community with the Hyper Cacher. You’ve had an attack against the Catholics, and you’ll probably have an attack targeting Muslims,” he said, referring to a January 2015 assault on the kosher Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris. “Already, in terms of [numbers] a third of the victims in Nice were Muslim.

“We’re in a situation where Daesh’s strategy is one of civil war, which means turning people against each other.”

An editorial in French daily Le Monde recalled that one of the IS group’s key strategies is to eradicate so-called "grey zones", where Muslims live peacefully alongside other religions.

"France comes under attack because it has one of the biggest Muslim communities in Europe. The jihadists' aim is to provoke violent revenge attacks that will create a religious war in our country," the newspaper wrote.

Religion historian Odon Vallet agreed that the IS group’s objective is to divide France, adding that the fight against terrorism will likely be long and hard. But he said that the attackers had already made a number of errors.

“Fortunately, the terrorists have made two or three major mistakes. They underestimate France’s determination, just like Hitler underestimated the determination of the British and Russians. They underestimate, as the rector Boubakeur has put so well, the resolve of Muslims, who want at all costs to separate themselves from this terrorism. And they underestimate the progress France is making in terms of defence,” Vallet said.

Date created : 2016-07-27

نویسنده : بازدید : 9 تاريخ : پنجشنبه 7 مرداد 1395 ساعت: 2:42
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