France talks tough on Islamic State, but is the public on board?

The French government is taking a hard line against the Islamic State. But the French media is more hesitant about the country's involvement in Syria and Iraq.

Christophe Ena/AP
Soldiers patrols at the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. A French tourist was abducted in Algeria on Monday by the Jund Al Khilafah, or Soldiers of the Caliphate. They said they would kill him unless France halts its airstrikes in Iraq within 24 hours.

After the Islamic State ordered its followers to kill “the spiteful and filthy French," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve declared that "France is not scared."

But as Radio France International puts it: “if France is not afraid this morning, many French people certainly are.”

That’s because, as if the message wasn't menacing enough, hours after it was circulated, a group in Algeria apparently set out to carry out those orders. They kidnapped a French tourist and have threatened to kill him within 24 hours if France does not put an end to airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq, which it launched alongside the US last week.

The French government has been putting a brave face on the situation. Prime Minister Manuel Valls told European radio that “If we give an inch, we hand them a victory.” But a sense of uncertainty about what France now confronts – how deep the threat will go and who else will be the target – is obvious in all today's newspapers, left, right, and center.  

The left-leaning Libération screams "Islamic State: France targeted” on its front page

On the right, the main editorial in Le Figaro is titled “Cold Blood.” In it, Philippe Gélie writes that France committed to the engagement against IS without fully knowing what results it would produce.  He points out that IS “has no shortage of experienced hands to turn words into action” – especially since France is the No. 1 supplier of Western jihadists to Syria.

Le Figaro agrees with Mr. Cazeneuve's sentiment that France must not back down. "This is not the first time France has been threatened by terrorist groups who attack the values of tolerance... respect for human rights and democracy, which France has upheld through its secular history," Cazeneuve said.

Those ideas were echoed by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and political analysts in France say that the French population – like the American public so far – is behind the aerial strikes against a group that the West overwhelmingly considers barbaric.

But the newspapers also demand more transparency in what France is committing to in Iraq.

Center-left Le Monde’s editorial this afternoon is titled “A war that must be called by its name.”

“The government owes us the truth. France is fully implicated in a war against a jihadist group that has declared itself the ‘Islamic State.’ It is not a dramatization of our commitment to the Middle East to say that. It is a fact.”

“To this first fact,” the editorial adds, “another equally important point should be added: France is embedded in a long battle, whose outcome is not guaranteed.”

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