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Carine Azzopardi, with her partner Guillaume Barreau-Decherf, and their two daughters. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Islamism Killed My Partner. Why Won’t the West Fight It?

My daughters have grown up without a father because of an ideology that Western politicians now often refuse to name.

On the evening of November 13, 2015, I recorded a video of my partner, Guillaume, laughing and dancing round the living room with our two daughters, aged four and seven. Just a few minutes later, he left our apartment in eastern Paris to go to the Bataclan concert hall. 

A rock critic who wrote under the name Guillaume B. Decherf, he loved nothing more than good music, and was excited about seeing Eagles of Death Metal that night. In his review for Les Inrockuptibles, he had praised the band’s latest album. Its “sole aim,” he wrote, was “to give pleasure,” before signing off with a flourish: “Plaisir partagé!” A pleasure shared.

But I was worried. A journalist myself, I knew that Reuters had alerted the public to the potential threat of Islamist attacks. And concert halls had long been considered targets: their sole aim—to give pleasure—makes them particularly offensive to jihadis. I warned Guillaume, but he was determined: he told me life must go on in the face of bigotry, and I would never have stood in his way.

Two hours after he left, an alert popped up on my phone: “Massacre at the Bataclan.”

I must have called him 30 times.

Not knowing what else to do, I ran to the largest hospital in Paris, La Pitié-Salpêtrière, a 10-minute drive from the Bataclan. It was chaos, but I showed everyone I could the video of Guillaume laughing hours before and asked: Have you seen this man? No one had.

There was nothing left to do but wait. On my way home, I imagined walking through the front door to find him in the living room, dancing to metal music at top volume, swinging his hair around.

Shortly before noon the next day, a journalist friend of mine called from the morgue, with the terrible news I’d been waiting for: Guillaume, 43, was one of the 130 people murdered by Islamists in a series of coordinated attacks that day.

After Guillaume’s death, I needed to know exactly why he was taken from us. So I dedicated my journalism career to trying to understand the ideology of the people who killed him. Between 2015 and 2017, I covered attack after attack: a Catholic church in Normandy, a supermarket in Trèbes, a Bastille Day celebration in Nice. I was still grieving when, in September 2021, I started reporting on the trial of the twenty men accused of orchestrating the Bataclan attacks. The biggest trial in French history, it lasted ten months and heard from over 2,500 plaintiffs. For some reason, I assumed the court would examine how the ideology of Islamism had contributed to the deaths of so many innocent people. But day after day, as expert after expert took the stand, this important factor almost never came up.

I couldn’t stay silent. A couple of months into the trial, I wrote a column. “Ideology has an essential place in a terrorist trial,” I argued, “because terrorism is the choice to use violence in pursuit of a political cause, in this case Islamism.” I explained that the terrorists believed Islamic law should govern all public life, including in France. I said they directly opposed our country’s constitutional secularism, its laïcité.

The column resulted in an invitation to testify at France’s parliament. In a room full of experts, I gave the facts: over the last 40 years Islamist terrorism has caused the deaths of over 210,000 people, and France is the European country most often targeted: we have experienced 82 attacks since 1979. And yet, I said, “our country is so afraid of being accused of xenophobia or Islamophobia, it refuses to accurately name the insidious ideology that motivates these attacks.” The following year, nineteen of the 20 men were found guilty of involvement in the Bataclan massacre, which was named for what it was: a terrorist enterprise.

What I said in the French parliament shouldn’t be controversial. But it was only in private that people dared thank me. Shortly after the trial, I was contacted by a man who taught at a school in a Paris suburb, whose colleague had been beheaded in October 2020 on his way home from work. The murder of Samuel Paty made headlines around the world and should have been a cautionary tale—but since then, French public schools have continued to incubate Islamist ideology. So many of Samuel’s students were vulnerable to indoctrination, growing up in communities of poor Muslim immigrants where Islamist views had gained a foothold. A parent had once told him: “The laws of my religion supersede those of your Republic.”

This teacher kept telling me: “Schools in France are in a state of emergency.” But he was too petrified to speak out. So I offered to tell his story without naming him.

When his testimony was first published in September 2022, it got a lot of attention: he warned that another attack like the one on Samuel Paty was possible, if not probable; and soon, he was tragically proved right. On October 13, 2023, high school teacher Dominique Bernard was murdered outside his workplace by a young Chechen man, who shouted “Allahu akbar” as he stabbed Bernard to death.

One of the many things that blew my mind after these attacks were the reactions of the teachers’ trade unions. They spoke of liberty, equality, and fraternity—but not of protecting young people from extremist ideology. They condemned violence, but not terrorism—and never Islamism. Even in the aftermath of the attack on the Bataclan, the authorities didn’t shy away from identifying Islamist terrorism when they saw it. But since then, we have become reluctant to name our enemy.

This shift partly explains why people around the world are more likely to recognize the case of Samuel Paty than of Dominique Bernard, and more likely to recognize the case of Bernard than that of a German tourist, known only as Collin, who traveled to Paris last December to celebrate his 24th birthday—and was stabbed to death near the Eiffel Tower by a terrorist who had just pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State.

After this latest attack, the media established a profile of the killer. As soon as it was discovered that he had a history of mental illness, the case was closed: this tragedy could be chalked up to a failure of our medical system. We, the French, were to blame for Collin’s death—rather than the radical ideology his murderer subscribed to.

Here in Paris, most people have already forgotten about Collin. His murder doesn’t come up much in articles and debates, in the way that Samuel Paty’s did. When, earlier this month, online ISIS supporters called for “lone wolves” to attack people during this summer’s Paris Olympics—sharing a mocked-up image of a weaponized drone flying around the Eiffel Tower—no one mentioned his name. It’s almost as if the French have become desensitized to terror. 

And it’s not just France. Two weeks ago, a police officer in Germany was killed trying to stop an attack on a blogger who’d been critical of Islam—and, as Peter Savodnik wrote in these pages: “It took four days for anyone with a uniform or in office to say publicly what was obvious, which was that this had something to do with Islamism.”

Islamism is winning a global publicity battle partly because it has found an ally in a phenomenon that was born in America: a phenomenon we call le wokisme. For the last few years, I’ve been tracing the links between these two ideologies, trying to understand how wokeism, which purports to have noble aims, has ended up enabling violence.

Both ideologies, for one, routinely use the word Islamophobia as a way to silence their critics. Researchers have also found that Western Islamists “speak the language of discrimination, anti-racism, internalized oppression, intersectionality, and post-colonial theory,” so that all acts perpetrated by a “marginalized” group can be justified as “acts of resistance,” reinforcing the view that Islam cannot and should never be criticized. Though they claim to defend Muslim minorities, some of their arguments are stunningly ironic. There are feminists, for instance, who claim that it is “Islamophobic” to suggest the hijab may contribute to the oppression of women. 

In the wake of October 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel, massacring 1,200 and kidnapping more than 200, we saw how successful this rationale has been in shutting down the critics. Even in the face of this evil, the Western world seemed uncertain: Was this a terrorist attack, or a valiant act of resistance by an oppressed people? The West soon made up its mind, as demonstrators flooded the streets in cities across Europe and America calling for the destruction of Israel.

The eagerness to defend Islamists in the U.S. is especially shocking. I was working in New York when two planes flew into the World Trade Center; I interviewed Americans as they fled across Brooklyn Bridge that day, some of them gray with dust, others covered in blood. September 11 had started as just another normal day in New York—just as October 7 had, in Israel. At the time, 9/11 was denounced by people across the political spectrum for what it was: a brutal series of Islamist terrorist attacks. Now, in the same city, 10/7 is being used as a rallying point to support terrorists who have the exact same aims.

Can America’s memory really be so short?

Carine Azzopardi is a journalist, essayist, and author of two books: “The Resignation That Kills” and “When Fear Governs Everything.” Follow her on X @CarineAzzopardi.

For more on this subject, read Peter Savodnik’s recent piece, “Islamists Keep Stabbing People. Why Aren’t We Talking About It?” and subscribe to The Free Press today:

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