Since my last entry Toulouse has been traumatized by the first terrorist attack in France in 15 years. A number of you wrote us, concerned about the violence in and around Toulouse and whether we had been caught up in it. Many of you were praying for our safety and that of our team. Thank-you! Our city has been profoundly shaken by the assassinations of seven people, including three young Jewish children (and the father of two of them) and of three uniformed French soldiers. While the 'killer on a scooter' was still running free, the streets of Toulouse’s normally bustling centre-ville were relatively empty; Toulousians were too frightened to go outside. Through a massive police hunt a young North African background French citizen, radicalized by Muslim extremists in Pakistan, was located in his apartment in Toulouse’s east side, just across the street from the Eglise Evangélique Réformé, a church where I have occasionally preached. After the killer barricaded himself in his apartment, police used the church as their HQ while they negotiated with him to surrender. After over 13 hours without any further communication, the police decided to storm the building. What followed was a 5 minute firefight and the young man was finally killed by a sniper (shooting from a window in the church) as he tried to escape from the window of his apartment. Toulouse heaved a collective sigh of relief. But a few days later gruesome videos that the assassin took while he was slaying his victims were posted from a Toulouse postbox and sent to major TV news agencies (all, to their credit, refused to air the film)—several days after he had been killed and while the assassin’s brother was in detention for questioning. So the concern is that he was not acting alone and others still free in the Toulouse area. Now France is asking itself, 'How many others are still out there--radicalized young French Muslims who are capable of carrying out such horrific atrocities ?'
Since that time President Sarkozy has ordered police raids on suspected Islamic militants in France. A further dozen people have been arrested in Toulouse, and in other cities, and a number who were foreigners were directly repatriated to their home countries (in the Middle East and Turkey). There is a lot of political intrigue in all of this because France is in the midst of an intense and bitter presidential campaign. There are five main candidates in the running, including Sarkozy who is hoping to be re-elected for another 5-year term for the center-Right UMP party. The other candidates include the Socialist (Hollande), the far Left (Melenchon), the far Right (Le Pen) and the Moderate (Bayonne). Sarkozy’s poll numbers went up due to his skilled and sober handling of the Toulouse attacks. France has a two-round election process; the two top vote-getters in the first round move to the second round two weeks later. The first round vote happens on April 22nd. However, the candidate who comes in third may ultimately be the spoiler. At this point third place is a tossup between the far Right and far Left candidates. There is also an outside chance that—as happened in 1997 when Marine LePen’s father knocked the Socialist candidate out of the race, allowing for an easy victory for Jacques Chirac—a candidate on the extreme Left or Right could win enough votes in the first round to advance to the final round.
Much is in play in this year’s election. The moderate candidate has little chance of getting to the second round—it seems the French are not much into moderate politics these days, given the on-going financial crisis, anger over the European Union bailout for Greece, concerns about immigration, and now the threat of home-grown terrorists. The candidates seem to avoid the current accounts (budget) crisis that is looming and which could further threaten the Euro and European Union solidarity. The Economist magazine is predicting that unless swift action is taken by the next Président de la République, France could find itself in a fiscal crisis that would be a far greater threat to the European economy and the Euro than Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy’s respective crisis have been.
On our team we have a guideline that we avoid discussing with our others (or even amongst ourselves) politics or political parties, whether American or French. We are called to be Ambassadors for Christ and we advocate only his Gospel. But we do pray for our adoptive country even as we realize that France is facing currently some very difficult challenges, as well as some hard choices in the not-so-distant future. The impact of an extreme politic in the country is worring. Tough talk about immigration on the Right makes many of our ethnically-diverse friends (including quite a few believers) nervous, as it does for us. (Could Americans eventually also be considered 'personne non grata'?) Despite the seeming stakes in this election, we know that ultimately the Lord is sovereign over the affairs of men. We will continue to pray. If you wish join us, please pray that voices of reason and moderation will prevail in France. Pray also that during these uncertain times the Lord would be drawing some to the peace only he can offer.
Reachglobal- Europe Summit, Minneapolis MN
Just a reminder that if you if you are close to the Twin Cities you might wish to join us for the upcoming RG-Europe Summit . EFCA ReachGlobal-Europe International Leaders will be sharing the vision for Europe and the connection between global and local missions; other RG Europe and local staff will be taking place in the dialog and discussion. Emilie and Michael will be sharing at the April 17th evening of the summit at the EFCA national office (901 East 78th Street; frontage road I-494). We will be exploring the questions Why global and local missions? and Why Europe and why now?; times 6:00-9:30 pm on April 14, 17, or 18. RSVP for dinner and dialog to: John.Westrum@efca.org or 952-232-5357. Or you can contact us (we are in the US for a week, until 18 April) at (763) 516-7345.