NATO, which is to really say, the United States, has been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union. And while France prides itself on its Gaullist tendencies and independence, the truth is quite another matter. France has been a willing and dependable ally in 2 out of the last 3 major military campaigns carried out by the United States. She presently has over 3000 troops stationed in Afghanistan (the fifth largest contributor of soldiers to NATO forces) and was a willing participant in the bombing of Libya. The second invasion of Iraq was the only recent American military dalliance that she chose to avoid.
Contrary to popular belief, politically speaking, France is not that different from the United States. There is the same left/right paradigm which seems to frame all political and economic discussion. There is a minimal amount of news converage devoted to the ongoing war in Afghanistan, except, of course, when French soldiers are killed. But this attention soon passes (just as it does in the States).
On Saturday June 9, 2012, four French soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. The method of attack was a suicide bomber dressed in a burqa (a traditional Muslim full body covering worn by women). He blew himself up near a French patrol in Afghanistan, killing the four soldiers and wounding five others.
Back in April of 2011, France introduced a law forbidding a person from covering their face in public. The law was directed primarily at Muslim women. They are banned from wearing full-face veils, or niqab, and the burqa in public. This includes public spaces, buildings, transport and universities. Enforcement of the law has been spotty at best. But that might soon change since the killing of French soldiers by an attacker in a burqa.
Muslims make up between 5 to 10% of the French population (with the vast majority being Arab or of Arab decent). Statistically, it is difficult to know how they compare to their white Christian brethren. The French government forbids the collecting of data according to race or religion. But if one listens to Arab Muslims living in France, one usually hears stories of varying degrees of prejudice.
This recent attack in Afghanistan, in addition to a previous attack in Toulouse in March by a man claiming to have ties to al-Qaeda who killed seven people (including three children) in two incidents, has left the French in a somewhat intolerant mood. This, when combined with an overall weak economic outlook, might cause the French’s immediate reaction to be a crackdown on perceived “fundamentalist” Muslims living in France.
But increased persecution, and taking a hard line, would only play into the hands of foreign terrorists. You only need look at events in the United States for a blueprint of what not to do.
Immediately after the attacks of 9/11, America had the sympathy of the world. This was soon squandered by the decision to respond militarily in the Middle East, resulting in the death and suffering of many hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It is clear that Osama Bin Laden had no greater ally than George Bush. And it appears that Osama Bin Laden’s legacy has no greater ally than Barack Obama.
France has the opportunity for a fresh start with President Hollande. Let’s hope she doesn’t squander it.