History, even long ago history, provides many motives for today’s terrorist groups.
If I were to ask you to name a (super)hero who wields a hammer what would your immediate response be? Why, Thor, the Norse god of thunder and lightning of course! It probably helps that handsome, ripped Australian actor Chris Hemsworth has played the role of Thor in several Marvel movies.
A guy with a hammer is a scary image, no?
Especially if he is aiming it at your head! It helps if he can channel lightning through it as well, the signature MO of Thor.
But there is another hammer-toting hero few have heard of – I don’t think there are any Marvel movies about him. I am referring to Charles Martel – Chuck the Hammer in French – who was a Frankish (i.e. before France proper came about) prince best known for his role in leading his men to a historic victory over Arab/Muslim forces at the Battle of Tours near Poitiers on 10 October 732 (yes you read that right, 732 AD – almost 1,300 years ago).
First a bit of context
From 632 to 732 AD, Arab Muslim forces had succeeded in breaking out of their Arabian enclave and conquered lands stretching from modern-day Iran in the east to Spain in the west. The Muslim juggernaut was showing no signs of slowing down and all of Christendom, as well as a whole host of other peoples, was faced with annihilation.
Enter Charles Martel and his men. His stand in Poitiers effectively stopped the Muslim onslaught and the Arab Caliphates never seriously threatened what was to become Western Europe again (although they did hammer (!!) at the gates of Vienna as late as 1683 (in the form of the Ottoman Army).
The Charles Martel Group
Charles Martel is seen as a hero, a Crusader, a man who stood up to Islam. This is what makes this day in terrorism history so interesting. On December 14, 1973 a group calling itself the ‘Charles Martel Group’, a ragtag band of far right ex-French special forces who were active during the disastrous French war in Algeria, carried out a bomb attack against the Algerian Consulate in Marseilles, killing four and wounding 23.
1966 Battle of Algiers
The conflict in Algeria was a nasty one with atrocities on all sides. The 1966 Battle of Algiers film on those days is a classic. The French occupation illustrates once again why these moves rarely end well.
So what became of the Charles Martel Group?
They carried out ineffective actions up to 1987 and have more or less faded from the scene. France’s experiences in Algeria are also fading but the prejudice against les beurs – European-born people whose parents or grandparents are immigrants from the Maghreb – is still widespread. It does not help that Islamist extremists have carried out many, many heinous terrorist attacks in France.
Terrorism thus remains a real threat in France whether it is of the jihadi or far right variety. It will take more than a hammer to resolve it.