It’s a case of double-speak gone mad.
On Wednesday lunchtime, at the Léo-Lagrange Park near the town centre of Reims, France, a 21-year old woman was sunbathing with two of her friends, dressed in a bikini. This is perfectly normal and if you visit any park in France in summer, especially a hot one like this, you will see plenty of women wearing swimsuits getting a tan. It’s a French passion.
However, the woman, whose name has not been disclosed, was spotted by a ‘group of five girls’. One of the came over and told her to ‘Get dressed, it’s not summer.’
The sunbather replied that the newcomer was not ‘the religious police’ and at that point all five of the girls attacked the woman, requiring her to be hospitalised. She was signed off work for four days.
All five of the attackers were detained. The three oldest, aged 18, 19 and 24, will appear before the court on September 24 to answer charges. The two others are minors and will be dealt with by the French juvenile correction system.
The names of the aggressors had not been released, at time of writing. The name of the victim has also not been publicised.*
The city authorities have been very coy about discussing whether this was a race or religiously based attack, again, likely due to French criminal law.
However, there is other evidence. A French organisation called SOS Racisme organised a mass protest at the park in question for noon today, of people dressed in swimming costumes. If this could not be seen as a racist attack, why would this organisation be involved? And note: they were not trying to defuse anti-Muslim sentiment, but to express solidarity with the victim.
On Twitter, the deputy Mayor of Reims, Arnaud Robinet, described the assault as ‘intolerable in our country’ although he was later to state, in an interview on TF1, that there was ‘no proof of a religious motive for the attack.’ Why would he bother to say that if there were no reason to assume that it might be?
The French Twittosphere in general has been alive with allegations of a religious background to the attack while everyone official is, as usual, standing with their hands behind their backs whistling.
The newspaper that reported the attack, l’Union, checked and verified that anyone can walk down the high street in a bikini without breaking the law, unless a local bye-law prevents it. The city authorities in Reims confirmed that no such local ordinance was in place, so the victim of the attack was behaving legally, dressed in a manner that she had a perfect right to be. Are we to imagine that she was attacked by a group of militant nuns? Or a stray pack of radical feminists? Don’t be silly.
The nonsense of attempting to keep the religious or cultural background of the attackers secret is a joke. As soon as they have appeared in court, their names will be revealed and their religious affiliation quickly inferred anyway. Presumably the authorities hope that by then, everyone will have forgotten.
But that is not good enough. France is a secular state and if people of particular religious persuasions are acting outside the law in promoting the ideas of these religions, then that should be exposed and challenged publicly. It’s not as if this would be the first time Muslims had behaved in an unacceptable manner, especially in Reims and the surrounding areas.
If indeed the attackers are Muslims — and let’s not kid ourselves here, if there were no possibility of that, this would have been made known; the official coyness is proof enough — then very firm action needs to be taken, by the authorities, to stamp out the culture that is promoting violence. If that means closing mosques and other places where this poison is being disseminated, better sooner than later.
It’s curious though, that only yesterday I was writing about how Muslims need to understand and accept the principle of secularism and here they are, it would appear, doing the exact opposite.
There is no doubt that many shadows are looming large over Europe today. One of them just got bigger. Every time things like this happen, moderates are squeezed between religious fascism and common or garden fascism from the extreme right. Europe is in trouble, and its leaders do nothing.
Also published on Medium.