Statement: Terror attack on Nice, France

On Thursday, October 29th 2020 three people died and several others were injured after a knife attack took place in the basilica of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, Nice, France.

According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, an elderly woman, a sacristan, and another woman were killed in the attack; the elderly woman was found inside the church “nearly beheaded,” while the other woman, Simone Barretto Silva aged 44 and a mother of three children, died of stabbing wounds after fleeing the attack to a nearby café.  Her final words were: “tell my children that I love them”. Vincent Loquès, a fifty-five year old father of two children Le Parisien newspaper reported, sacristan of the Notre Dame basilica was killed as he prepared for the first Mass of the day after a Tunisian migrant, Brahim Aoussaoui attacked the church.

Aoussaoui was shot fourteen times by armed police as he screamed “Allahu Akbar” [God is greatest in Arabic] during the attack and ‘while under medication’ as he was taken to the city’s Pasteur hospital, Nice’s Mayor, Christian Estrosi said. Investigators found two unused knives, a Koran and two mobile phones, in addition to a bag with some personal effects. Less than two weeks ago a schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded north of Paris in Conflans Sainte Honorine, for showing cartoons of the Prophet to his class in a lesson on free speech.

Elsewhere a security guard was stabbed and wounded outside the French consulate in Saudi Arabia, while two other men were arrested – one while carrying a knife near a church in Sartrouville after his father reported he was about to carry out a Nice-style attack, and another who tried to board a train in Lyon carrying a long blade. The attacks come amid fury across the Islamic world at President Macron for defending satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, and on the day that Sunni Muslims mark the Prophet’s birthday.

A representative of the French Council for the Muslim Faith condemned the attack, saying: “As a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their loved ones, I call on all Muslims in France to cancel all the celebrations of the holiday of Mawlid [Prophet Muhammad’s birthday].”

Nice, a city on the French Riviera near the Italian border, has been traumatized several times by terrorist attacks. In 2016, in one of France’s deadliest attacks, a Tunisian man killed 86 people when he drove a truck through crowds who had gathered in the city to watch Bastille Day fireworks. Christian Estrosi, the city’s mayor, told Europe 1 radio on Friday that he felt angry after the attack and urged France to change its Constitution if needed to pass stringent antiterrorism laws. Just as the country entered a nationwide lockdown that will last at least a month, they should be willing to enact laws to stop terrorism, Mr. Estrosi said.

His Grace has issued the following statement:

[Begins] We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of the victims of today’s heinous terror attack in the basilica of Notre Dame, Nice, France. We shall pray for the repose of the souls of those who died and for the well-being and healing of those wounded both physically and emotionally. We are saddened that once again, after similar events in mosques, synagogues and churches in recent years, that another place of prayer and sanctuary should be invaded and so sacrilegiously violated, and praying worshippers attacked. Oremus. Kyrie eleison.

As Chair of Trustees for a multi-faith charity, and the city of Brighton & Hove’s Faith Council, and an Executive Committee member of the city’s Racial Harassment Forum, I am very aware of the tensions and difficulties experienced by Faith and ethnic communities in our contemporary society. Only two weeks ago I compered an “Upstanders” webinar to raise awareness and suggest practical ways in which those experiencing hatred for their Faith and ethnicity may be supported by witnesses to such incidents in public places by other members of our wider society.

The present populist polarisation of politics has heightened sensitivities to a regrettable degree. People of Faith and BAMER communities are experiencing increased levels of hate-motivated incidents and crime, and not always from external perpetrators. The often deliberate conflation of cultural and ethnic identity with race and religion by agents often ignorant of and insensitive to the sensibilities and nuances involved, threatens to undermine years of understanding and mutual appreciation that Faith and ethnic communities have built together, without compromising their particular defining characteristics and beliefs.

Contrary to what political agents and fundamentalist religionists suggest, it is possible for people of different or even diametrically opposed theological or philosophical beliefs and cultures to enjoy mutual respect and beneficial collaboration in a racially cosmopolitan environment and mixed cultural society. Evidence for this may be demonstrated in the hundreds of joint projects and partnerships around the world between different Faiths addressing the pressing needs of their local communities and wider society. In France, just as here in the UK, multi-faith projects provide services to the homeless, the vulnerable, the poor and the nationless.

It must not be permitted for the extreme perspectives of a literal minority to dictate the attitudes and approach we take as a society regarding difference and social cohesion. Noting the clear condemnation by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (French: Conseil français du culte musulman, CFCM), I hope that community leaders will be encouraged and enabled to work together with Civil authorities to address the voices of discontent within their communities; challenging not just the extremist narrative, but addressing with the Government the issues around social inclusion and integration that so often provoke and may appear to lend credibility to populist arguments.

Surely all people of Faith and goodwill should support the various national programmes in their countries tackling social cohesion and counter-extremism and international initiatives like “Breaking Down the Social Media Divides: A Guide for Individuals and Communities to Address Hate Online,” recently published by the European region of the World Association for Christian Communication. As well, ongoing dialogue between Faith groups in local communities building trust and paths of communication with each other is essential to prevent the further destructive ideological and populist polarisation of our societies. [End]

Metropolitan Jerome of Selsey in addition to being Chair of Trustees of Brighton & Hove Faith in Action and Chair of the City’s Faith Council, is Chair of the Brighton & Hove Combatting Faith Hate Partnership; an Executive Committee Member of the Brighton & Hove Racial Harassment Forum; a member of Sussex Police’s Multi Faith External Reference Group; a member of the Home Office’s counter-extremism strategy Building a Stronger Britain Together Network and the Prevent Network and city’s One Voice Partnership; a member of the city’s Upstanders Network; a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society‘s Faith Action Network; a member of the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE); the Faith Representative for Brighton & Hove Community Works (an umbrella VCS organisation) and a member of the Equalities Access Workstream for the Brighton & Hove City Council’s COVID19 response and recovery planning. Additionally Metropolitan Jerome has been active in provisioning and assisting the homeless in Brighton & Hove for over a decade and supporting Brighton & Hove’s City of Sanctuary efforts for refugees and asylum seekers.

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