TRAPPES, France — It all began when a high-school teacher warned that Islamists had taken over the city. The teacher went on TV, issuing alarms from inside what he called a “lost city” of the French Republic. In Trappes, he said, he feared for his life.
“Trappes, it’s finished,” the teacher said. “They’ve won.”
The mayor, a strong believer in the Republic, saw the teacher on television and didn’t recognize the city he described. He knew his city, west of Paris and with a growing population of immigrants and Muslims, had problems but thought it was being falsely maligned. The mayor also happened to be a Muslim.
“The truth doesn’t matter anymore,” he said.
For a few weeks this winter, the fight pitting the mayor, Ali Rabeh, 36, against the teacher, Didier Lemaire, 55, became a media storm that, beneath the noise and accusations, boiled down to a single, angry question that runs through the culture wars rippling through France: Can Islam be compatible with the principles of the French Republic?
Lupin.” But Trappes also saw about 70 of its youths leave for jihad to Syria and Iraq, the largest contingent, per capita, from any French city.
article about Mr. Lemaire, who said he was quitting because of Islamists.
Within a few hours, a conservative politician eyeing the presidency tweeted her support for Mr. Lemaire and “all those hussars on the front line in the fight for the Republic.” Next, the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, attacked “certain elected officials” for failing to protect the teacher from Islamists.
That the words of a virtually unknown teacher resonated so much was a sign of the times. A few months earlier, an extremist had beheaded a middle-school teacher for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech. President Emmanuel Macron was now pushing a bill to fight Islamism even as he pledged to nurture an “Islam of France.”
Mr. Lemaire’s words also resonated because of the outsized role in France of public schoolteachers, who are responsible for inculcating in the young the nation’s political values and culture. In the Republic’s mythology, teachers are the “hussars” — the light cavalry once used for scouting by European armies — fighting to preserve the nation’s sanctity.
In the article, Mr. Lemaire said he had been under police escort for months. Trappes’s mayor, he said, had called him an “Islamophobe and racist.” He said he was waiting for an “exfiltration” from deep inside “a city lost for good.”
Overnight, the soft-spoken, longhaired teacher, who said he preferred curling up with Seneca than going on Facebook, was issuing dire warnings on top television news shows.
“We have six months to a year,” he said, “because all these youths who are educated with the idea that the French are their enemies, they’ll take action one day.”
Mr. Lemaire arrived in Trappes, a banlieue, or suburb, in the outer orbit of Paris, two decades earlier. Once a village that grew around a millennium-old Roman Catholic parish, Trappes is now a city of 32,000.
Mr. Lemaire’s high school, La Plaine-de-Neauphle, stands at the heart of an area built to accommodate immigrant workers from France’s former colonies in the 1970s — a mixture of rent-subsidized high-rises, attractive five-story residences and a constellation of parks. The mosque is nearby. So is a market where vendors offer delicacies from sub-Saharan Africa and halal products.
Parti républicain solidariste, which espouses a hard line on France’s version of secularism, called laïcité. He now favors taking girls away from their parents, after a second warning, if the children violate laïcité rules by putting on Muslim veils during school field trips.
“We have to protect children from this manipulation,” of being used “as soldiers or as ideologues,” he said.
‘I See Myself In Them’
remarks to the newspaper Le Monde, the local préfet, the top civil servant representing the central government, praised Mr. Rabeh’s administration for its “total cooperation” in combating Islamism. The préfet also refuted the teacher’s claim to having been under a police escort.
The teacher’s story began wobbling. He admitted to the French news media, as he did to The Times, that he had “not received explicit death threats.” He had also accused the mayor of calling him a “racist and Islamophobe” in an interview with a Dutch television network.
But the network denied the mayor had said any such thing.
‘France Really Doesn’t Like Us’
letter to the students at the teacher’s high school.
“Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you’re worth nothing and that you’re lost to the Republic,” he wrote.
debate was scheduled that evening between Ms. Le Pen and Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister leading the government’s crackdown on Islamism. Hours before the debate, he announced that the teacher would be granted police protection.
That evening, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the national education minister, issued a statement supporting the teacher. He also accused the mayor of trespassing into the high school to distribute tracts — the letter — that morning. “Political and religious neutrality is at the heart of the operation of the School of the Republic,” the minister said.
The city officials at the school that morning told The Times that no copies were distributed inside. The regional education office and Mr. Blanquer’s office refused to make the school principal available for an interview. The minister’s office declined to comment.
The trespassing accusations led to such an avalanche of threats against the mayor that he, too, was put under police protection — a shared destiny, for a while, for the two men of Trappes, who had each lost something.
The teacher was forced to leave the school where he had taught for 20 years and, despite his criticisms of Trappes, said “you really feel you’re on a mission.” He said he should have been more careful with the facts and had made “many mistakes,” but stuck by his interpretation of Trappes as “lost.”
His words, he said, had led to a “clarification of positions today in France.”
The mayor questioned the very Republic that once inspired him. He had believed that “the people who embody the Republic will come, the government will eventually express its solidarity with me.”
“Stunned,” he said, “I find that’s not the case.”
He declined his worried father’s request to resign.
“For a moment during the crisis, I told myself, well, if this is the Republic, I’m abandoning the Republic, just as it’s abandoned me,” Mr. Rabeh said. “But the truth is they’re not the Republic. The kids of Trappes are the Republic.”
Gaëlle Fournier contributed research.
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When Belgium said in March that it would repatriate some women who had joined the Islamic State, along with their children, Jessie Van Eetvelde welcomed the decision with relief — even though she knows it will likely mean time in prison.
She and her two children have been living for at least two years in detention camps in Syria. Her dream, she says, is to have her children, whose father fought for the Islamic State, attend school in Belgium. For that, she is ready to pay the price of having joined the militant group in 2014, if Belgium will take her back.
“Maybe they realized that those who want to go back are sorry and want a second chance,” Ms. Van Eetvelde, 43, said recently in a WhatsApp voice message.
Many European countries have balked at allowing the return of people linked to ISIS, yet some, like Belgium and Finland, are now heeding the advice of security experts and rights groups who say that repatriations are the safest option.
lost its last territorial foothold in Syria, more than 200 women from 11 European countries and their 650 children are living in two Syrian camps, Al Hol and Roj, according to figures compiled by Thomas Renard, a researcher at the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based think tank.
Although the Europeans represent a small fraction of the 60,000 people being held in the camps, who are mostly Iraqis and Syrians, European governments are facing increasing pressure to bring the adults back to face trial amid an argument that the countries’ inaction violates their commitment to human rights.
Security experts, rights groups and lawyers of those who went to ISIS territories acknowledge that European governments face legitimate security concerns, along with political dynamics in countries fearful of terrorist attacks. But a growing number of government and intelligence officials say that leaving European citizens in Syria comes with greater risks, including that they could join terrorist groups that target Europe.
Kazakhstan and Turkey have repatriated many of their own citizens to prosecute them and, in some cases, reintegrate them into society.
The Kurdish leadership in the region that oversees the camps has not prosecuted the women, whose roles under ISIS’s rule often remain unclear. And because the administration is not internationally recognized, any prosecutions would still not get them out of their legal limbo.
Most European countries say that they have no legal obligation to help their citizens in the camps and that adults who joined ISIS should be prosecuted in Iraq and Syria.
Save the Children.
Reprieve says that many women in the camps were trafficked, raped and forced into marriage and domestic servitude.
Yet in several European countries, repatriations remain out of the question, said a French intelligence official who requested anonymity to discuss the topic. Part of the hesitancy, security analysts say, is that repatriated women could receive light or no prison sentences.
Britain has stripped British citizenship from nearly 20 women who joined ISIS, in some cases taking them to court to prevent their return. France has turned down numerous calls for repatriation, even as some of the women staged a monthlong hunger strike. The Netherlands and Sweden said that they might take in children, but without their mothers.
France reels from years of terrorist attacks, the government has opposed calls to repatriate people who left to wage jihad.
Although France has taken in 35 children from the camps on a case-by-case basis, 100 women with French citizenship and their 200 children remain mostly in the Roj camp, according to Jean-Charles Brisard, the director of the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism.
France was due to repatriate at least 160 of them in early 2019, according to intelligence documents brought to light by the newspaper Libération that spring and seen by The Times this year. But the situation in the camps became too volatile, the French intelligence official said, and the plan was abandoned.
asked the International Criminal Court to consider whether the country’s policy makes President Emmanuel Macron complicit in war crimes.
A French woman who went on hunger strike in the Roj camp said that there was no running water and that many people there had respiratory problems. (The Times is not publishing her name, because she says she has received death threats from ISIS supporters who oppose their return to France.) “It’s very difficult to see doctors and dentists — there are no medicines,” she said, adding that the Frenchwomen wanted to return “to be tried, to be jailed.”
Jussi Tanner, a diplomat from Finland who is in charge of his country’s repatriations, said the women and children’s return was not a matter of “if, but of when and how.”
“Repatriating them as quickly as we can is better from a security point of view rather than pretending that the problem goes away when we look away,” he said. “You can leave them there, but they will return anyway.”
Claire Moses, Christopher F. Schuetze and Jasmina Nielsen contributed reporting.
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Hotel flexibility will vary, so read the fine print
By now, most of the large American-run chains have reverted to their pre-Covid cancellation policies for reservations made before a certain date (that has come and gone), and for travel through a certain date (that has come and gone). But some companies are still being flexible: Hilton has always had generous cancellation policies, and Four Seasons has been consistently easy about changes and cancellations during the pandemic.
Travel-industry insiders also have noticed flexibility among independent hoteliers.
“We’ve felt that small, family-run luxury properties are actually more nimble than some of the big hotel chains,” said Louisa Gehring, the owner of Gehring Travel, an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso luxury travel agency. “Rather than lay off all their employees or point to an overarching corporate cancellation policy, they’ve had flexibility to keep the teams on, work with clients on a case-by-case basis and really step up to the plate.”
Policies vary by property, she added, but even some of the more rigid ones now include exceptions for Covid.
One thing to watch for is the credits-versus-refunds flash point: Even in cases when a hotel won’t swallow a deposit or prepayment outright, will you get a cash refund or will you be asked to rebook? Last year, Greece and Italy both passed laws allowing hotels and other travel companies to issue credits, rather than cash refunds, for canceled bookings. Although vaccines, the eagerness to travel and pandemic fatigue may make the idea of a credit less odious than it seemed last spring, always ask about policy specifics, including blackout and expiration dates.
Realize that Paris won’t look exactly like the Paris you remember
The Palace of Versailles is open and President Emmanuel Macron is sipping espresso outside Parisian cafes, but nightclubs will remain closed even after France’s countrywide curfew ends in June. At restaurants and bars in Madrid, groups are capped at four people inside and six people outside. Germany and the Netherlands remain closed to American tourists.
“Clearly, we will not come back to ‘normal’ straight away, and travelers will have to be conscious of health measures and respect rules at the destination,” said Eduardo Santander, the executive director of the European Travel Commission, a Brussels-based nonprofit that represents the national tourism boards across the continent. “We all — destinations, businesses and guests — cannot let the guard down too soon both for our own health and for the safety of people around.”
In short, any trip to Europe this summer will come down to managing expectations.
“Save the ‘must check all the boxes’ trip to Europe for a bit later, once all new protocol kinks have smoothed out,” Ms. Gehring said. But you may still have an unforgettable experience regardless.
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Leaders of France and Germany voiced support on Monday for making the World Health Organization more independent and building up its ability to respond to global health crises.
President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany spoke at the opening of the weeklong annual policymaking assembly for the global public health body. Its 194 member states are scheduled to discuss how the W.H.O. coped with the coronavirus pandemic and how global health institutions need to be strengthened to prepare for the next challenge.
The European Union has drafted a proposal to give the W.H.O. powers to rapidly and independently investigate disease outbreaks, bypassing the kind of delays the organization faced from China in trying to investigating the coronavirus outbreak. But the proposal has run into strong resistance from a number of states, including China and Russia.
“We have to have institutions that are up to the task,” Mr. Macron told the opening session of the assembly in a video statement. He urged member states to increase the organization’s budget and reduce its dependence on a few big donor states.
“This organization has to be robust in times of crisis, it has to be flexible enough to react to emergencies, and it has be solid when it comes to controversies,” as well as free of political pressure, he said.
Ms. Merkel called for establishing a global health threat council that would monitor states’ compliance with international health regulations, and she urged states to support an international treaty on how to tackle future global pandemics.
The W.H.O. should continue to play a leading role in global health care, Ms. Merkel said. “If it is to do so, however, we must provide it with lasting financial and personal support,” she said. “We have been talking about this for years, but now it is all the more important to act,” she said.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O. chief, warned that vaccine nationalism and “scandalous inequity” in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines was perpetuating the pandemic. He called for action to vaccinate at least 10 percent of the population of every country by September.
Meeting that target would require states to vaccinate 250 million people in low- and middle-income countries in the next four months, he noted. “We need hundreds of millions more doses,” he said, “and we need them to start moving in early June.”
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