Military cemetery/Muslim section
Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, January 26, 2010
His name was Harouna Diop, he was 40 years old and the father of 6 children. Staff Sergeant in the Châteauroux 517th Régiment du Train [transport and logistics regiment], he was killed in action on 13 January this year.
Born in Senegal, having grown up in France, he had chosen to enlist after his national service and was on his tenth external operation. He was escorting an Afghan army convoy when insurgents attacked his armoured vehicle with explosives. He died for France.
To pay him the nation’s final tribute, Defence Minister Hervé Morin paid his last respects on 18 January in front of his coffin draped with the tricolour.
In my turn, I pay my last respects to the memory and sacrifice of this son of France.
Harouna Diop was French. Harouna Diop was Muslim.
He was Muslim, as were all the 550 French soldiers lying in Notre-Dame de Lorette with their 40,000 brothers in arms, of all faiths, of all origins, from every walk of life.
Most were killed during the battle of Artois in 1915.
They fought to defend their country, our country. They fought for France’s freedom, our freedom. All under the same flag, those who believed in heaven like those who didn’t. Together.
For this service to their country, the soldiers buried here paid the ultimate sacrifice. They gave our country their lives, their courage and their example. Today, I have come to express to them the gratitude of the whole of France.
Being French means belonging to a nation which has been built, over the course of history, century after century, weathering many storms, meeting many challenges, representing so many hopes and promises and promoting values and ideals with universal reach. France isn’t a blank page. Being French, whether you are born or become it, means having France as a legacy, not as an unchanging heritage which should be jealously kept in a museum, but a legacy left with a will requiring us only to show ourselves worthy of it and to make it bear fruit for future generations.
Being French does not confer only rights, it also confers duties. And the foremost of these duties is to love France. By honouring those who have given their lives for her. By respecting her laws and values. By being ready to serve her if circumstances demand. Being French isn’t just a privilege of birth, it isn’t just a nationality which can be acquired, it’s an ideal imposing duties on each and every one of us.
I have just paid my respects in the crypt where the unknown soldiers of the 1939-1945, Indochina and Algerian wars are buried. We’ll never know the faith of those unknown soldiers, we won’t know whether they were Jews, whether they were Christians, whether they were Muslims or even if they had a religion. What we remember and will pass on from general to generation is that they were French and that they died for France, anonymous heroes of our national community. Witnesses and players in the painful chapters of our past, they urge us to remember. They urge us to keep their memory alive as we keep the flame of remembrance alive, by continuing to practise the values for which they willingly sacrificed their lives.
Since, more than anything else, being French means demonstrating a deep commitment, a permanent commitment to our republic’s values and principles.
Being French is all that. And it’s all that which has been scorned, through their unspeakable action, by the cowardly and imbecilic profaners who have several times broken into this national military cemetery to defile the tombs in the Muslim section.
Are they even aware of the history of the “Moroccan Division” and its soldiers who distinguished themselves near here, in Vimy?
Did they appreciate the courage which fired those men of the 7th regiment of Algerian Tirailleurs (1) on the morning of 9 May 1915 when they launched an attack on the Vimy Ridge, an assault from which two out of three combatants would not return?
Did they know that at Verdun, 70,000 Muslim soldiers died for France?
Do we need to remind forgetful minds, ignorant minds, of the feats of arms of that army of Africa which restored her military honour to France? Tabors (2), Spahis (3), Tirailleurs, Zouaves (4) and Goumiers (5) landed in Italy, then Provence, with their European brothers of Africa. Alongside the allies, they fought the decisive battle to restore our country’s honour and standing and France’s republican and democratic government.
Nor do I forget the more than 160,000 Harkis (6) and auxiliaries who fought for France and suffered terrible consequences.
France has always honoured and cherished as the best of her sons those who have made for her the ultimate sacrifice.
France has always welcomed those who have chosen her as their country, those who, born elsewhere, have adopted her language, values and laws as their own.
Islam is today the religion of very many French. And our country, which has known not only wars of religion but also fratricidal battles due to State anti-clericalism, can’t let French Muslim citizens be stigmatized. I won’t let anyone take our country down that regressive path. Freedom of conscience and freedom of worship are fundamental freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution, just like secularity (laïcité), which is the prerequisite both for exercising them freely and for the autonomy of the State.
Secularity, which is at the heart of the republican pact and which I’m firmly committed to, isn’t the negation or rejection of the concept of the teaching of religion. Secularity is a principle of tolerance, a principle of openness, a principle of conciliation on which depend civil harmony and peace. Secularity is a key component of our identity. It’s recognition by the State of the equal dignity of religions, so long as they comply with our laws, accord with our principles and conform to our values, foremost of which is the undiminishable dignity of human beings and absolute equality between men and women.
All the men buried in this necropolis, all these men now irreversibly united in death, sacrificed their lives so that after their death France and the principles of our republic would endure. My dear compatriots, we haven’t got the right to forget this.
So let us, whatever our beliefs, whatever our faith, whatever our origins, show ourselves worthy of their example and courage.
Long live the Republic, long live France!./.
(1) Infantrymen from the colonies.
(2) Moroccan battalion-size units recruited in mountain areas.
(3) Native cavalry corps of the French army in North Africa.
(4) Light infantry corps in the French army originally formed in Algeria and long retaining their oriental uniform.
(5) Moroccan soldiers in the French army.
(6) Algerians who fought for the French during the Franco-Algerian war and were subsequently given French nationality.