The Champs-Élysées – it’s known as “the world’s most beautiful avenue”. Standing in the heart of Paris, it overlooks the entire city and is famed for its restaurants and luxury shops. It runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle, and is where the Arc de Triomphe sits. And on any given day, thousands of people walk through this street.
On April 20, a lone gunman stood still on this famed boulevard. He watched the crowd passed by. Then, he jumped out his car – and shot dead a policeman.
This has almost become a way of life for Parisians, whose city has been ravaged by repeated acts of terrorism by the so-called Islamic State in the past few years. For police and security forces, it is a stark reminder of the challenges they face in combatting a hidden enemy that knows no limits and whose influence has no bounds.
The shooting comes just as France’s presidential race nears its end. On Sunday, five main candidates – François Fillon, Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Benoît Hamon – will face-off in the first round of voting.
Naturally, the attack has reignited controversy about how France should respond to terrorism, immigration, and multiculturalism. On the right, hardline conservatives use this event as just another example of how France’s relatively open border policies and welcoming stance towards immigrants have harmed national security and the “French way of life.” There have already been many parallels drawn between President Trump and frontrunner candidate Le Pen, who has declared that “the places of Islamic preaching will be closed and the propagators of hate will be condemned and expelled” under her rule. In light of Thursday’s shooting, she has continued her rhetoric and demanded that “people on the French security services’ watch list for radicalization should also be expelled from France and have their French citizenship revoked”.
Others are more cautious in assigning blame, yet have still coalesced in support of stricter immigration policies and a stronger police force. The fact that the perpetrator was a French national with a criminal record – and had recently been the subject of a counterterrorism investigation – does not help the case of the left. It’s obvious why Le Pen’s ideas are appealing to many. It also raised the question of how police should deal with those who are “potential terrorists”.
It is certain that the frequency of attacks will only increase if left unmanaged. Yet, we must be wary of the ramifications that come with setting any potential precedents. Maintaining a balance of freedom and security in France will continue to be harder.
So, which direction will the French people opt to traverse? Regardless of Sunday’s results, one thing is true: the outcome of this election will be felt throughout the world.