The letter was published on the 60th anniversary of a failed coup by French generals.
Matthias Ang | April 28, 202
The letter alleged that Islamists were “taking over” parts of the country, and slammed a perceived failure to act against “suburban hordes” — a term understood to refer to residents of suburbs populated by poor immigrants — who “scorn our country.”
French government warns of punishment for military personnel who sign the letter
The BBC reported that the letter was signed by around 1,000 servicemen and women, including about 20 retired generals, while France24 placed the number of retired generals at 25.
The lead signatory of the letter is a former Foreign Legion commander, Christian Piquemal, who was arrested for participating in an anti-migrant demonstration in 2016.
In response, France’s Minister-in-Charge of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, warned that any active member of the military who signed the letter will be punished for breaking a law which requires them to be politically neutral.
“For who have violated the duty of reserve, sanctions are planned, and if there are active soldiers among the signatories, I asked the chief of staff of the armed forces to apply the rules… that is to say, sanctions.”
What else did the letter allege?
The letter, which said that “the hour is grave, France is in peril,” further alleged the following:
- That the “suburban hordes”, along with other unnamed groups who “scorn the country” will lead to deaths “in the thousands”,
- That young, non-white French activists are stirring “hatred between communities” by calling for the demolishment of statues of French figures from colonial times, and;
- That the French government is attempting to scapegoat the police by using them to repress the “gilet jaunes” (also known as the Yellow Vest movement, which was triggered by a fuel tax in late 2018).
The letter also referenced the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty by a radicalised Chechen immigrant in October 2020, adding:
“Who could have imagined 10 years ago that a teacher would one day be beheaded on leaving school.”
Why is the French government taking such a hard stance on the letter?
Part of the letter’s controversy stems from its initial date of publication on April 21 — the 60th anniversary of a failed coup by French generals who were opposed to France granting independence to Algeria.
The letter also received the backing of the far-right French politician Marine Le Pen on the same day that a a female police officer was stabbed in Paris, in what is being treated as a potential terrorist attack.
However, she subsequently clarified that while she shared the soldiers’ sentiments, such problems can only be resolved by politics.
The publication of the letter also came just before France’s highest court declared that the suspect in the murder of a 65-year-old Jewish woman was unfit to face trial, as he had committed the murder under the influence of drugs, Politico reported.
The verdict has set off a fresh wave of protests, with Le Pen blaming radical Islamism for this attack and other anti-Semitic crimes.
Macron condemned for supporting publication of offensive cartoons
Against the backdrop of these events, and the letter’s publication, is Macron’s own declaration to combat religious separatism and Islamist extremism.
This has included the passing of new measures such as more restrictions on the wearing of religious signs for public employees, new offences for online hate speech and more stringent checks on the foreign financing of mosques.
Macron’s defence of offensive religious cartoons in the name of free speech set off a wave of protests against him in countries like Pakistan, which have been ongoing for months.
Top photos via Unsplash