By: Alex Zavaries

Over the past several days the news has been saturated with coverage of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks and the subsequent attacks throughout Paris and the surrounding area. A total of 17 people were killed and 14 were injured in these attacks, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in France since the Vitry-Le-Francois train bombing in 1961. The most recent attacks sparked massive marches and vigils throughout France to commemorate the victims, and many participants also held signs or banners that read things such as, “I am against racism,” “freedom of speech,” “I am against fascism,” “unity,” and most notably, “Je Suis Charlie,” which is a world-wide trending topic on Twitter.

While this is a time of mourning for France and the world, the events have nevertheless raised many issues that the people of France and their government will soon have to address. Among the criticism of French intelligence and national security, the question of racial and religious tolerance will surely become the focal point of discussion as France attempts to move forward from these attacks.

However, the issue of racial and religious tolerance is not a new phenomenon for France. It was only in 2010 that France legally banned women from publicly wearing the niqab, a Muslim veil that covers the entire face. The penalty for breaking this law includes a fine of up to 150 euros. With a Muslim population of more than five million people (the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe), such a law affects a considerable amount of France’s population. There have been several attempts at appealing this law, but to no avail, even though the law blatantly infringes on the freedoms of expression and religion.

What happened in Paris this week could very well be the catalyst to a serious conversation that France needs to have about tolerance. While the extremist actions of two men that resulted in the loss of 17 innocent lives should not and will not be minimized, these events are only a small window into the social unrest currently unraveling in France. But how is France expected to unite as a nation and move forward from these attacks when it is illegal for a woman from the largest religious minority in the country to wear a religious veil?

If there is to be a positive consequence of the events of this week, it will be the earnest attempt by the people of France to force their government into bringing about real change surrounding race and religious tolerance – the change that France and her people need.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Charles Platiau

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