Paris-based journalist Ramin Mazaheri argues that France’s right-wing shift since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January have failed to stop further terrorist attacks.
Ten months after the Charlie Hebdo attacks France has endured an act of terrorism nearly 10 times worse. But did France do enough to stop it? Yes they did. At least from the right-wing point of view that advocates aggression and cultural chauvinism.
The government of Francois Hollande militarized society in unprecedented ways that haven’t happened since World War II, justifying it by the new “permanent” war on terrorism, to use the Prime Minister’s words.
But make no mistake: French society – from media moguls to local citizens to the local neo-Nazi, they all helped contribute to the establishment of the current culture of violent xenophobia.
Climate of hysteria
I’ve been covering France for six years, and 2015 witnessed a reactionary shift almost identical to the United States after 9/11. Review what took place after the Charlie Hebdo attacks this year and you’ll see what I mean.
You’ll also have to agree that it failed to stop the latest terrorist act, despite the promises.
Immediately after the attacks France stationed 10,000 machine-gun toting soldiers on the streets. This domestic army soon became permanent. It was called a “war climate” back then, but now it’s just normal. Funny how you get used to anything, even something terribly oppressive.
We also had a “climate of hysteria,” as the government totally ignored their own rhetoric and convicted hundreds of people for so-called “defending terrorism speech.” Many wondered if Charlie Hebdo could be prosecuted for “promoting terrorism speech.”
Those sentenced included minors, mentally ill, the homeless, and the arrest of an 8 year old boy.
Certainly every case I saw involved people who were seemingly of Muslim background. The Charlie Hebdo shootings were done by homegrown terrorists, after all, and this was all about domestic intimidation. It certainly wasn’t about free speech. Nor was it about justice: some cases went from accusation to trial to sentencing in 3 days. The key phrase there is “accusation” – people were imprisoned just on hearsay, which is the definition of a “witch hunt”.
France’s government took advantage of this atmosphere to pass what was called the “French Patriot Act.” The problem is that France’s executive branch was already so strong most analysts said they didn’t even need one. But such a ploy is part of the executive branch power grab clearly listed in the “Fake War on Terrorism Playbook.”
The losers are, as usual, the legislative branch and democracy. Funny how from Egypt to France the judicial branch seems to always side with preserving the police powers?
France also protected the police by banning demonstrations against police brutality. That would have undermined the heroic image of the many Frenchmen with guns outside our homes, after all. Just last month cops got sweeping new powers and promises for tougher sentencing on the exact same day as their 1-day protest. I have attended hundreds of demonstrations in France, but that was a record for government capitulation.
The police get listened to, but they don’t have put up with those pesky activists working for the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign against Israel. France recently became the only country in the world to ban this vibrant and successful tool of political expression. The good news is that you can call for a boycott of any other country in France because they truly value free political speech.
I can hear you saying: we can’t confuse the state with the people. The average person isn’t a power-hungry politician, dissembling lawyer or rabid policeman!
But here are some cultural changes since the Charlie Hebdo attacks for which really can’t blame the government:
- Despite 5 austerity budgets, there is no leftist party like Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain. Instead, the neo-Nazi National Front is bigger than ever. Their noxious brand of racism and xenophobia is now an acceptable part of the mainstream discourse whereas they used to only however in the background.
- Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks skyrocketed to all-time high. The numbers this year will dwarf 2014, which was the current all-time high.
- Muslims have every reason to feel even more excluded from French political life: A new secular Muslim party, the Democratic Union of French Muslims, which simply aimed to bring more attention to Muslim concerns, was forced to withdraw from regional elections in March due to threats and harassment.
- Despite the burqa ban and hijab restrictions, France found a new way to focus on a woman’s appearance instead of her mind: A Muslim student was actually banned from class for wearing a full-length skirt.
- More refugees landed in Europe in October than in all of 2014. France has accepted only a few hundred each month, but recently more than a dozen towns refused to accept any refugees at all unless they were Christian. They weren’t all National Front mayors – some entire town councils joined together in racist solidarity
In some good news, France did join the 20th century by admitting “Islamophobia” exists.
Other highlights from 2015:
- French arms sales hit a 15-year high. Hollande admitted to what all observers already knew – France armed militants in Syria in violation of an EU embargo.
- The UN criticized France for covering up allegations that their “peacekeepers” in the CAR sexually abused children at a refugee camp.
So what should we learn from France’s right-wing choices in between the two horrific terror attacks?
That they didn’t work.