Unity against terror has made France stronger - Minister
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to France Inter (excerpts)
Paris, 12 January 2015
Terrorist attacks/Paris rally
Q. – In what respect is France different this morning from what it was yesterday?
THE MINISTER – I think it’s stronger. It’s a tremendous paradox, given that we experienced an appalling tragedy in the middle of last week. (…)
It was a moment of unity and of national pride.
I was in the demonstration alongside foreign leaders, and it didn’t prevent me from looking at what was happening around us. Yesterday evening, I took a moment to mull things over.
What were the words and themes that struck me? Absolutely extraordinary national unity. International unity: a quarter of the world’s leaders were there around us. Freedom, the common theme: what we heard were freedoms, be it in relation to freedom of expression, of the press, or religious freedom. Citizenship: it was France that was being upheld, it was the homeland. Firmness: the tributes paid to the police.
And finally, at the end of all that, pride. I even saw a little boy who must have been eight to 10 years old, who was singing the “Marseillaise”. When the words of the “Marseillaise” are sung they often seem to us a bit problematic, but “Listen to the sound in the fields/The howling of these fearsome soldiers/They are coming into our midst/To cut the throats of your sons and consorts” – that’s the exact rallying cry of the fight against terrorism. Yesterday the “Marseillaise” was the world’s song. (…)
Response to attacks
Q. – How can we build on this state of unity, of pride, in which freedom and solidarity prevail?
THE MINISTER – That’s the whole difficulty. Political leaders must be worthy of the people. (…)
On terrorism – because that’s the issue being raised –, what are its origins? There are social origins – societal to use the pretentious term. It’s linked to education, it’s linked to the family, it’s linked to mentoring, it’s linked to religion etc. There are origins that are linked to our security apparatus. Is it sufficient? And there are also international origins.
So we must respond on three levels. There may be differences between people, but the debate that takes place must be worthy of what the people have told us, namely: “Be united and respond.”
Q. – Does that require a bipartisan working commission? (…)
THE MINISTER – Yes. That’s one idea. Just after leaving you in a moment, I’ll be going to a meeting led by François Hollande at which we’re due to discuss this with Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve. We must learn the lessons of what’s happened, at every level.
A bipartite commission may be a good idea. On the purely security level, I was discussing this yesterday with the Interior Minister, who really has done his job very well. He brought together his counterparts yesterday, and a number of leads are already emerging, bearing in mind that this government has greatly stepped up resources for the fight against terrorism, and rightly so.
Q. – What leads?
THE MINISTER – Three or four. For example, in terms of the Internet, methods of regulation must be developed. It’s clear there are things on it which are completely intolerable.
In prisons, it’s true that terrorism is having a knock-on effect and filtering in.
On Schengen, there are measures to be taken to make Schengen more effective.
Q. – Namely?
THE MINISTER – What’s called the PNR, the Passenger Name Record – i.e. we must have a register enabling us to see all the people who are air passengers in Europe, in order to then act accordingly. There’s a bill; it’s being held up at the European Parliament. (…)
Paris rally/foreign leaders
Q. – Around 50 heads of state and government were in Paris yesterday. How do you justify the presence of, for example, Ali Bongo and Viktor Orbán, among others? This demonstration was about defending freedoms.
THE MINISTER – Things happened in the following way. Obviously, as head of diplomacy I was at the forefront in organizing all this. When Sunday’s demonstration was decided we had two days, two and a half days to prepare for it. There were a lot of requests from foreign leaders to come to France. We can’t refuse them. And then, via ambassadors, we told certain countries that we would be even more honoured if their top leaders came. It’s a combination of all that which resulted in yesterday’s demonstration.
Q. – Have we underestimated the virulence of anti-Semitism in France among people and in the media and government?
THE MINISTER – No. We haven’t underestimated it, but we’ve got to fight anti-Semitism – once again, it isn’t an opinion and you’re liable to prosecution for it.
One of the major lessons of yesterday’s huge demonstration, rally, is about respect for religions and, at the same time, it’s the greatest illustration we could have of defending laïcité [secularism] (1). I think our schools need to teach what laïcité is again. It’s something precious that we, France, possess, i.e. the separation between religion and politics… Everyone can have their religion or no religion, it’s a private matter but, as far as the temporal world is concerned, the only community we have is [formed by] citizenship. It’s extraordinarily precious and must be defended.
As regards all those fanatics and enemies of religion, we’ve got to be extremely tough with them, be they anti-Semites, anti-Muslims or anti-Catholics. No! The religions have a rightful place and are religions of peace. (…)./.
(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the state.