France’s foreign ministry decided over the weekend to recall its ambassador to Turkey following the “hateful and slanderous propaganda (…) and direct insults” against President Emmanuel Macron. Meanwhile, France says it will remember those who did not condemn the murder of history teacher Samuel Paty. EURACTIV France reports.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian recalled the French ambassador to Turkey on Sunday (25 October), and the foreign ministry also criticised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for not having expressed any condemnation or solidarity following the beheading on 16 October of history and geography professor Samuel Paty who showed his class caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.
‘Eloquent silences’ will not be forgotten
The French minister, who was questioned on Wednesday (21 October) by the Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces Committee, detailed the measures put in place immediately after the attack: a “double emergency”, including “mapping international reactions to the attack in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in real time.”
“It is said that it is in hardship that one recognises one’s friends. I have drawn up this cartography and I say to those who can hear us beyond this room that nothing that we can see will be forgotten,” he added.
“Of course, we have received many, many expressions of support from all over the world,” the foreign minister continued, noting that “we are very touched [by those]”. “But there are also eloquent silences. And these silences, too, will not be forgotten,” said Le Drian.
The ministry’s other urgent need was to reinforce the security of its representatives abroad, including those working at French embassies, as well as French students and teachers abroad.
EU regulation against online hate speech urgently needed
During the hearing, the foreign minister also recalled the attacks of 13 November 2015 in Paris, which killed more than 130 people and injured more than 400.
Following the incident, France invoked the mutual defence clause under Article 42.7 of the EU Treaty during a meeting with EU ministers in Brussels. The provision states that in the event of armed aggression on its territory, “other member states shall have towards it [the member state victim of armed aggression on its territory] an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power.”
“This was a first and has led to greater solidarity regarding our country’s security issues, but also of our European partners,” Drian explained, adding that “we were able to act together in this direction.” At the time, increased awareness following the attack had helped speed up the implementation of the sharing of passenger name record (PNR) data in EU airspace, which had been blocked until then.
“We are in a different logic today but I consider that (…) this must also be the time to move forward to adopt as quickly as possible the draft European regulation preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online,” according to the French minister.
Though it has been under discussion since September 2018, this regulation proposal provides for all terrorist content to be removed within one hour of its publication, a measure which Le Drian called “essential”.
The attack on Samuel Paty was also a reminder of the grim role of social media. On top of having published a campaign against the professor and his freedom of expression course, the attacker had also tweeted several terrorist messages before the tragedy.
After he committed the murder he posted Paty’s severed head all over social media. Before being deleted completely, the image could be seen on social media in blurred form.
The Christchurch call is insufficient
“We need to be able to respond to the dissemination of hate content on social media. We need to reflect on the scope of its application in order to set up a legal framework for regulating, supervising and moderating illegal content on digital platforms, including the glorification of terrorism,” said Le Drian.
The subject was also discussed on Friday (23 October) in Brussels, when Prime Minister Jean Castex met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to discuss the French recovery plan.
Together with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, France had launched the Christchurch Appeal in 2019 following the attack in the city perpetrated by a far-right activist in two mosques, which left 51 people dead and 50 injured. However, many internet users witnessed the “scene” live on Facebook for almost 17 minutes.
“Freedom of expression is fundamental and must be respected. But freedom of expression does not mean freedom to terrorise. No one should be able to create or share terrorist or violent extremist content online,” according to the so-called “Christchurch Call”.
However, the call is based solely on the signatories’ willingness to eliminate such content, which appears to be far from sufficient.
Islam in France
France will also adopt its own measures.
President Macron announced during his speech of Les Mureaux that his government will be pushing a bill to combat separatism and put an end to the system of “detached imams”.
“We are currently setting up training schemes for imams in collaboration with our partners, so that they [the imams] are trained in France with values compatible with the Republic,” said Le Drian. “The aims of this measure are “both (to) combat radical Islam and, at the same time, strengthen the Islam of France and all its qualities,” he added.
Le Drian is also discussing ways to frame what he calls the “deregulated market” surrounding pilgrimage to Mecca which, according to him, “exposes our compatriots either to fraudulent practices or to hotbeds of radical islamists” with Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan. He confirmed discussions “should lead to a rapid conclusion”.