30 Mar 2018

Divided visions of a national hero

Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame died a hero's death when he sacrificed himself to save a hostage during a terrorist attack on March 23. All of France pays him hommage this week, but his legacy is rapidly becoming politicized.

Roxanne D'Arco
Roxanne D'Arco NewsMavens, France
Divided visions of a national hero - NewsMavens
Arnaud Beltrame. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

When tragedy strikes, societies look for heros, and on March 23, grief-stricken France found one.

When a man took hostages in a supermarket in Southern France, gendarme Arnaud Beltrame switched places with one of the hostages before being shot and stabbed by the gunman. He died a day later from stab wounds to the throat.

Since then, the entire country has been united in its admiration for Beltrame's selfless act. But, in France, politics are never far behind.

Far-right political factions have begun casting him as a hero of patriotic resistance against Muslims. Conservative Catholic websites say his sacrifice was enabled by his faith in a Christian god. Questionable figures like essayist Eric Zemmour have declared him the "heir of ancient knights."

These allusions to medieval Christian wars against Muslims are not only out-of-date, but also counter-productive. After the attacks of March 23 and March 29, France needs a message of peace, not war, to heal. 

terrorism, religion

Details from the story:

  • 3 people died and 10 were injured when a gunman took hostages in the southern city of Trebes.
  • Arnaud Beltrame died the next day from his injuries. He was 44 years old.
  • The 26-year-old attacker said he was from the Islamic State Group. He was killed by the French Intervention squad, known as the GIGN.
  • On Wednesday March 28, French President Emmanuel Macron held a national ceremony in memory of Arnaud Beltrame at the Invalides. 
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