The first thing I heard when I switched on the French radio this morning was a Green activist berating the world for its lack of urgency in tackling climate change. That’s why, he explained, Youth for Climate France is organizing a series of demonstrations this weekend, including one on Saturday in which Extinction Rebellion will be present.
Another protest took place in France today, this one in Marseille where hundreds of angry residents vented their anger at the government’s announcement on Wednesday that as of tomorrow the city’s bars and restaurants must close for two weeks. It was only a few weeks ago that President Macron was playing it cool with coronavirus, explaining that there was no such thing as a risk-free society and France and the rest of the world must learn to live with the virus. Yet Macron has panicked at a resurgence of infections, ignoring the fact that deaths in Marseille — as across the country as a whole — remain low.
As a result, there is a whiff of sedition in the Mediterranean air. The city council and local MPs share the fury of the city’s hospitality trade and already there are rumors that police will be instructed not to enforce the government’s edict. ‘Paris thinks we’re small fry, that there’s no need to inform us of what happens in our city’, said Bernard Marty, head of the UMIH union of bar and restaurant owners in city. He added that the city would ‘experience insurrectional moments’ if the government didn’t perform a u-turn.
Normally the protest in Marseille would have been the lead on the lunchtime news in France but another story now dominates. Just before midday, a man attacked several people close to the former offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo with a meat cleaver. The situation remains fluid but the French press report two people are in a critical condition, both journalists from the Premières lignes press agency. At least one suspect is in police custody. Prime minister Jean Castex disclosed the location of the attack and prosecutors have launched a terrorism investigation.
Earlier this month, the trial began in Paris of the alleged accomplices of the Islamist terrorists who attacked the Charlie Hebdo office in January 2015, killing twelve people. Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi murdered the cartoonists in the name of al-Qaeda and the terror organization recently issued a death threat against Charlie Hebdo after they marked the opening of the trial by publishing the Prophet Mohammed on their front cover.
In response to the threat, more than 100 French news outlets, from across the political spectrum, signed an open letter this week in support of Charlie Hebdo and the magazine’s right to print what it likes. This endorsement echoes the declaration of President Macron’s two weeks ago that the right to mock and to caricature is fundamental to French society.
Islamists disagree, and there is a growing fear in France that the country may be subjected to another wave of terrorist attacks between now and the presidential election in May 2022. This concern was forcefully expressed in an article in yesterday’s Le Figaro by two experts in Islamic extremism, who warned that the release this year of several Islamists detained on minor offenses in 2014 and 2015 ‘has led us to fear a resurgence in terrorist attacks on our soil’.
Although there have been several Islamist attacks during Macron’s presidency, he has so far avoided the widespread carnage that François Hollande suffered in the second half of his presidency. How might the young president and his inexperienced government respond to such a crisis? They haven’t covered themselves in glory with coronavirus and the indignation in Marseille could easily spread to other cities, including Paris, where the hospitality trade (and mayor Anne Hidalgo) is furious at the announcement that they must close at 10 p.m. from next week onwards.
Macron must tread very carefully in the coming weeks. The people are angry, exasperated and exhausted and they won’t tolerate a second lockdown. Nor are they prepared to put up with Green politicians threatening to ban the Tour de France and Christmas trees because they’re not eco-friendly; in short the French are feeling rebellious and that should make the political class nervous.
This article was originally published onThe Spectator’s UK website.