Attack in Nice: Why the French should not learn to live with terrorism

Neil Clark
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
People react near flowers placed on the road in tribute to victims, two days after an attack by the driver of a heavy truck who ran into a crowd on Bastille Day killing scores and injuring as many on the Promenade des Anglais, in Nice, France, July 16, 2016. © Pascal Rossignol
As defeatist statements go, it takes a lot of beating. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, responding to the horrific Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, which killed least 84 people, says France should learn to “live with terrorism.’

READ MORE: ‘Thanks, M. Valls’: Social media furious over PM’s ‘France will have to live with terrorism’ comment 

Leaving aside the fact that what Valls has said is an oxymoron: you can’t live with terrorism as is instigating control by killings, it’s easy to see why his remarks have caused such outrage.

The first responsibility of any government is to protect its country’s citizens. To keep them safe from attack.

For a prime minister of a country to say that his people must learn to “live with terrorism” is tantamount to saying, “Look, guys – we can’t protect you anymore. Keep paying your taxes, keep voting for us and keep supporting our ‘interventions’ in other people’s countries – but we really can’t do much if terrorists want to slaughter you in Paris cafes or when you’re celebrating Bastille Day on the Riviera.”

While we of course should mourn the victims of Nice, changing our Twitter and Facebook profile pictures to the French Tricolor flag and lighting public buildings in red, white and blue is really not enough.

Since the start of 2015, more people (over 230) have been killed in terror attacks in France than in the preceding 100 years.

READ MORE: France’s terror log: 230+ killed in attacks since 2015, more than previous century of terrorism

If I were French, I’d be heartily sick of seeing President Francois Hollande – who’s presided over all this carnage – coming on TV spouting platitudes after yet another terrorist outrage. Talk about déjà vu.

Serious – and I mean serious – questions need to be asked of the French governing class – and the country’s police and security forces. There must also be an honest discussion about the sort of country that France has become.

One didn’t have to be Nostradamus to foresee that Bastille Day celebrations in a major tourist center like Nice could be a terrorist target, especially as Hollande had just two days earlier said that France’s state of emergency would soon be coming to an end.

In fact, earlier this week, France’s DGSI internal security organization had warned of the danger of further terrorists attacks from militants with "booby-trapped vehicles and bombs." We’re told that security in Nice was “tight” – but it can’t have been all that tight if a man was able to drive a 19-ton truck through a crowd for about 2 kilometers. According to reports, Mohamed Lahouai Bouhlel had parked his truck on Promenade des Anglais for nine hours before launching his murderous attack. He also reportedly told police he was delivering ice cream – but if so, why didn’t police ask to see inside his vehicle?

It seems that barricades were erected on the promenade, which the truck was able to plow through and two police officers did fire on the vehicle after it had entered the pedestrian area. But it was all too late.

Did the French authorities drop their guard after the European Championships held in the country had been completed without any terrorist attacks? Again it could reasonably have been predicted that terrorists – accepting that Euro 2016 was going to be too well protected after last year’s bombing near the Stade de France in Paris – would look at other events.

On Saturday, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that “the person who carried out the operation in Nice to run down people was one of the soldiers of the Islamic State.” We can’t say we weren’t warned about the use of vehicles for IS operations. Less than two years ago, the group’s spokesperson, Abu Mohammed al Adnani, gave advice on how followers could kill their enemies: “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife or run him over with your car.”

In the same message al Adnani also mentioned the “spiteful, dirty French.”

But although IS have claimed responsibility for Nice, it would be wrong to blame Islam itself for the attack.

The perpetrator of the Nice attack does not appear to have been much of a Muslim. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drank alcohol, took drugs and didn’t go to a mosque. “He was not a Muslim, he was a sxxt,” someone who knew him said.

Once again, as was the case in previous attacks, the terrorist had a criminal record. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins revealed that Bouhlel “was known to the police for several crimes of violence, theft and criminal damage between 2010 and 2016.”

He was arrested twice in the first three months of 2016 – the first time following a pub brawl (again, not a very Muslim thing to be involved in), and the second for a road rage attack. But despite receiving a six-month suspended sentence for the first offense, he was not put in jail. If the French criminal justice system had done its job properly, then on July 14, 2016, Bouhlel would have been under lock and key and not murdering 84 people.

Earlier, Bouhlel had been barred from entering his family home for allegedly beating his wife.

Neighbors have told of an unfriendly man who never returned greetings. One said Bouhlel was “frightening” and “not normal.”

Bouhlel’s father has revealed his son had nervous breakdowns.

“He would break everything and demolish everything. He has had a nervous problem and when he becomes nervous he breaks everything. He had problems with his wife and I think that added to his mental health issues."

It’s clear that the Bouhlel was one angry individual who had already proven he was a menace to the general public. Yet he was able to obtain weapons and park a large truck near a major public event without being apprehended.

France clearly needs to improve domestic security and but it also needs a new, less accommodating, approach to dealing with violence.

It doesn’t help that the post-Gaullist French Establishment’s attitude to violence is incredibly hypocritical.

Back in July 2013, Manuel Valls, then the Interior Minister, said there was no legal basis for arresting European jihadists going to fight against the secular Syrian government – or for barring them from leaving or entering France. “The fighters in Syria are not fighting France or Europe; they are fighting Assad’s regime,” Valls said.

For Valls – and other members of the French government who have been pursuing “regime change’ in Syria – jihadism is OK if it’s fighting against a government the western elites want toppled.

France’s pernicious role in the war against Libya must also be mentioned. The toppling of Muammar Gaddafi destabilized the whole of North Africa and gave IS a base there which they did not have before. Yet the absurd philosopher-warmonger Bernard-Henri Levy, who acted as a cheerleader for the Libyan attack, now tells us that ISIS are like a gang of repressed Nazis.” 

Without the “liberal interventionist” policies that Levy and his faux-left followers support, it’s doubtful that IS would even exist. Merci beaucoup, M. Levy!

The message of Bastille Day is supposed to one of “liberte, egalite, fraternite,” but the sad truth is that all three are under threat in post-Gaullist France.

Liberté? The French elite, together with other western leaders marched in support of free expression and free speech after the Charlie Hebdo killings. Yet shortly after the Paris killings, a French comedian was arrested for expressing his feelings on a Facebook post.

READ MORE: French authorities accused of double standards over hate speech crackdown

In fact, as I noted in “I’m confused, can anyone help me? Part 4,” over 60 people were arrested in “free speech” France, not for things they did, but for things they wrote about the Charlie Hebdo attacks on social media.

“Do we believe in free speech and free expression – and the right to cause offense – or don’t we? Or does it apply only if we want to express some views but not others?” I asked.

In post-Gaullist France, clearly the latter applies. Again, the hypocrisy of the political elite is off the scale.

Égalité? Don’t make me laugh! France’s “Socialist” government has been involved in a bitter dispute with organized labor over its neoliberal economic reforms which would make it much easier to fire workers. While PM Valls threatened to ban workers’ street protests, he has been praised to the rafters by the right-wing and distinctly anti-egalitarian Economist magazine. It’s fair to say that the Socialist Party’s economic policies make Charles de Gaulle look like a communist.

“He was a man who did not care for those who owned wealth; he despised the bourgeois and hated capitalism.” No, that’s not a description of the “socialist” Hollande, but of the “conservative” De Gaulle, a man who the bourgeois faux-left were so desperate to topple back in 1968.

As for fraternité, that too is in short supply under the “Socialists” whose neoliberal policies have only deepened social divisions. Hollande himself is the most unpopular president on record, with an approval rating of 17 percent in March.

Perhaps recognizing that his comments about the French having to learn to live with terrorism was a real faux-pas, Manuel Valls later talked of France being in a “long war” against terrorists.

But again, is this really the right language to use? France has already been at war – in Libya where it recklessly toppled a government that was a bulwark against Islamic radicalism and in Syria where it spent years backing terrorist proxies to try and overthrow the secular government of President Bashar Assad.

In common with other western nations facing the same problems, France needs to concentrate on its domestic policies and stop interfering in the affairs of other nations. Security needs to be improved and the whole political direction of the country must change. The French must not learn to live with terrorism – they need to ditch hypocritical governments that encourage terrorism. In the words of the great Noam Chomsky, “Everyone's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's really an easy way: Stop participating in it.”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.