On Nov. 13, 2015, a series of Islamist terrorist attacks shook the city of Paris. One hundred thirty people were killed and hundreds others injured in coordinated shootings and a suicide bombing that hit the Bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France stadium, and several bars and restaurants, all in the name of the Islamic State.
In the three years since, the Bataclan, now owned by a Qatari group, has staged provocative performances that some argue are not only pro-Muslim, but pro-Islamist. In April, when the venue announced a concert set to feature controversial rapper Medine, who has been criticized for attacks on France's secularism, many determined that enough had now become enough. Led by Patrick Jardin, the father of one of the 90 victims of the Bataclan killing, a group calling itself "100 patriots" called for a "patriotic protest" against the planned Oct. 19 event.
The movement proved effective: just barely a month before the scheduled event, the Bataclan and Medine announced that, in a "conciliatory spirit" and "respect" for the victims' families, the concert would not take place. While some have called the cancellation an attack on free speech, others are celebrating what they view as the correct decision. Medine will still perform, the statement read, but at an alternative venue.
But despite this "conciliation," the pattern of producing such controversial events at the Bataclan has many Parisians distressed. Even the date of Qatar's purchase of the property has raised hackles: Sept. 11, 2015 – two months before the attack and "an extremely symbolic date," Pierre Cassen, one of the protest organizers, observed.
"Curiously, those who are in charge of the hall feel oddly obliged to invite artists who at one point or another pay homage to the religion of the assassins – Islam," said Cassen. "The first year, the singer Sting sang 'Inshallah.'"
If it be your will, it shall come to pass
Medine represented a particularly troubling choice. "He is someone who openly calls for the crucifixion of secularists, like in Golgotha; celebrates the recurring riots taking place in France; calls on Algerians to continue the war in Algeria; and chants racist remarks against whites," Cassen said. Lyrics to the rapper's "Angle d'Attaque," for instance, include, "These white pigs go far, hand me a handgun, I'll make one pedophile less"; "I've hated Whites since Rodney King, I need a rifle"; and "Whites are demons/pigs of no morality." For Cassen and others involved in the protest, "This programming is first and foremost an unprecedented provocation against France, and an insult to the memory of the victims and their families."
Yet despite such hateful rhetoric, Pierre Jardin was not specifically looking to bar Medine from performing, making calls of "censorship" misguided. "He just wanted it elsewhere than the place where his 31-year-old daughter lost her life," said Cassen.
It would seem a reasonable enough request; and if the many Parisian Muslims who joined the "Je suis Charlie" march were sincere in their denunciation of radical Islam, one would expect their community to have shown equal sympathy in this regard.
They did not. "Not a single imam, as I speak to you, not a single Muslim leader, asked Medine to cancel his concert," said Cassen. "That makes them all accomplices, all of them are complicit."
Hence despite the re-staging of the Medine concert, Cassen and others view the incident as part of an ongoing assault.
Such events would be unthinkable under other circumstances, they argue, but it apparently is different when Muslims are involved.
"Imagine a neo-Nazi concert in Auschwitz. Imagine a communist concert in Katyn, where Stalin's troops shot thousands of Polish officers in the head," said Cassen. "The Americans refused to build a mosque, which Muslims demanded, at Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers were destroyed by Islamist assassins." And yet, "This [is] an incredible violence against France, and it's no coincidence, because for the Islamists, in Europe, our country is the number one target. So anything that can weaken our defenses is a good thing – like the Medine concert."
But if France is a top target, it is far from being the only one: the UK suffered the most terror attacks and deaths of any European country during 2017. Hence, asked how he would advise others facing similar provocations, Cassen offered a rallying call.
"Every country has its traditions, but the fundamentals remain," he said. "Organize, and gather others. Write a statement that a maximum of people can sign. Lead the battle of social movements. And then, if the balance of power is favorable, organize rallies, with speeches, videos, and show the determination of the resistance.... The only battles lost in advance are the ones you do not lead."
Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands. Follow her at @radicalstates.