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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Bitter memories

A question to be asked of France’s museum for terror victims: Will it heal a divided nation?

By: Editorial |
Updated: April 1, 2021 8:03:58 am
The museum’s creators believe it is a form of cultural “resistance” and a way for the French to confront an ongoing assault.

France has decided to set up a museum in the memory of 300-odd citizens killed in terror attacks in the last decade. It is a way to acknowledge not just the suffering of French citizens, but also to draw a line — between the random violence of terrorist organisations and the nation that must defend itself against it. The museum’s creators believe it is a form of cultural “resistance” and a way for the French to confront an ongoing assault. Only a few months ago, a series of attacks in France and the beheading of a teacher had not only underlined France’s terror threats — but also its struggle to respond to violence without othering its Muslim population. Precisely because there is not enough distance between the wounds of the past and the present, questions are being asked of this project. Not only on whether the portrayal of the perpetrators might border on glorification, or whether the displays might trigger trauma. But also: Will this be a step towards finding a way to heal France?

In its response to the killing of Samuel Paty and the attacks in Nice, the Emmanuel Macron government, it appears, has lost its appetite to find a middle ground. The might of the French state is now ranged against “Islamic separatism” and for a programme of reinforcement of republican values. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, France had walked down this path, with a ban on burqa and other Islamic veils. This time, it has taken the shape of a proposed “anti-separatism” law that will introduce several restrictions on the Muslim community and make legal an intensified scrutiny of their affairs — that is, their profiling.

In the backdrop of these contestations, in the crisis of France’s laicite to find a more accommodative language, a museum on terrorism is rife for the state appropriation of suffering to divide fellow citizens into permanent “enemies” and “victims”. Just what will not help defeat terrorism.

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