MARK DAVIS: Bruno Tertrais, welcome to the program.

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Is there a sense of shock in France that this has happened to French citizens?

DR BRUNO TERTRAIS, FOUNDATION FOR STRATEGIC RESEARCH: Well, there is a sense of shock although I must say some believe that the government has tended to overreact a little bit. It was more the sense of shock of the government which was to say transfer to the public opinion, but the French public has reacted still very emotionally to what happened.

MARK DAVIS: Well the Iraqi Prime Minister seemed to be rubbing the salt into the wound a little when he said that France will not be spared. How were his comments received?

DR BRUNO TERTRAIS: He was very blunt, he was perceived here as being very blunt, but I think he was right to remind us that opposition to the war in Iraq does not spare us from terrorism.

MARK DAVIS: Well, the captured journalists have called on their countrymen to come out and demonstrate to defend them and to repeal the ban on the head wear in French schools. Is there any sign of such demonstrations unfolding?

DR BRUNO TERTRAIS: Absolutely not. There is absolutely zero chance of this happening. And in fact, one could even go and say that the end result is going to be the opposite of what this group, this Islamic group was looking for. So at the end of the day what this group in Iraq will have achieved will be the opposite of what they were looking for. Unite the French Muslims against them and unite the French Muslim with the French government. So in a kind of a strangely twisted way, this could be, of course we shouldn’t speak to fast because we don’t know the fate of the two journalists, but it could be a bonus for French democracy and the integration of the Muslims in the broader French community.

MARK DAVIS: Well the timing of all this is of course critical. The law comes into effect tomorrow, as the new school term begins. I imagine this will be an incredibly tense first day back at school?

DR BRUNO TERTRAIS: It will be, indeed, a test. I don’t believe at all that the terrorists have planned that, but indeed there is this de facto link between our domestic situation and the situation in Iraq and it will be probably pretty tense. I believe, I believe that things will actually go alright because most of the current leaders of the Muslim communities in France have actually called upon the broader community to respect the law and implement the law.

MARK DAVIS: But there were many Islamic groups that were calling on the girls to defy the ban. Are they still making that call today?

DR BRUNO TERTRAIS: Well, they can hardly make that call today in these very difficult days. So indeed, some of them have, you know, did take a stance against the law and said that young girls and young should interpret the law as restrictively as possible and even perhaps defy the law but this is a statement that they cannot make today because of the hostage crisis.

MARK DAVIS: It might also be very dangerous to forcefully enforce this legislation. How will it be implemented tomorrow? How will it be enforced? What instructions have been given to the schools?

DR BRUNO TERTRAIS: Yes, no, you are right. It would also be dangerous to implement it too forcefully. The directors of schools and colleges have been given instruction to interpret the law as they see fit but in a way which is not too strict and in a way that still allows for public order to be maintained and in a way that also does not give the impression to young Muslims and, by the way, to other religious communities, because it’s a law that applies to every religion, not giving the impression to religious community that they are banned from expressing their religious beliefs. But school directors have been given instruction to be cautious and to be moderate in the implementation of the law if only to avoid social tensions.

MARK DAVIS: What happens in reality? A girl refuses to remove her head cover tomorrow, what happens?

DR BRUNO TERTRAIS: Well, she’s invited to a dialogue with the school authorities. There can be a mediation. There can be a discussion with the family if needed and if this dialogue does not lead to an end of this challenge, to say, then the girl can be actually expelled from school.

MARK DAVIS: And if a student refuses to leave the classroom, I mean how ugly will this get? How determined are the French authorities?

DR BRUNO TERTRAIS: I think they are pretty determined. The problem is that there is a risk that some young men and women will want to be seen as martyrs so to say and they will make deliberate provocation. This is what some of us are afraid of here. There is absolutely no way that the police is going to come and take forcefully any young men or woman who does not seem to be respecting the law. But there is indeed the possibility that sadly some of them may have to be expelled from school. That is simply to say, you know, don’t come back to school tomorrow, you are not authorised to as long as you have this provocative attitude with ostensible religious signs. That could very well happen. That could be provocations.

MARK DAVIS: The French have had a long reputation of having a sympathetic stance for most Arab nations. Is this event going to change French attitudes towards the Islamic world, both in general and within France itself?

DR BRUNO TERTRAIS: Actually I don’t think so. You know the whole paradox of this whole issue is that on the one hand you have the hostage situation which fosters solidarity among the French of all religions but also with the Arab and the brother Muslim world. On the other hand you have this law which is actually creating tensions and the real interesting thing about this crisis is that the net effect could be to defuse the tensions that were created by this law in the first place. So it’s a completely unexpected result that we’ll probably going to have. I don’t think that this crisis, whatever its outcome, will change anything in the French policies viz-a-vis the Arab world or the Muslim world at large. By the way, it will not change either French policy with Iraq. I don’t think so.

MARK DAVIS: Bruno Tertrais, thanks again for joining us.

DR BRUNO TERTRAIS: Thank you.

Dr Bruno Tertrais Interview