Last November 20, the French National Assembly signaled its strong support for the government’s militarist and securitarian reaction to the killings of November 13 by voting almost unanimously  to extend for three additional months, effective November 26, the state of emergency decreed six days earlier. This was the first time since the Algerian war (that is, during the putsches of 1958 and 1961) that the state of emergency had been proclaimed throughout the entire French metropolitan territory. Its extension was accompanied by a revision of the law of April 3, 1955, detailing its provisions. These modifications were more than a simple brush-up of the references to Algeria. Control over the media has been stripped from the law, and the right for members of either parliamentary assembly to be informed “without delay of the measures taken by the government during the state of emergency”  has been introduced. Aside from these two measures however, the 2015 law significantly broadens the powers granted to the executive branch.
The new law makes it possible to dissolve “by a decree of the council of ministers those associations or groups that take part in acts that severely threaten public order or whose activities facilitate the committing of such acts or incite others to commit them.” These dissolutions do not end with the lifting of the state of emergency, but are definitive. The law also makes it possible to block websites that defend and justify acts of terror. It authorizes the police during searches to copy the data seized from computers or telephones and to keep it even if this data reveals no violation of the law.
New measures have made house arrest more punitive . More leeway has been granted to the executive branch to define the nature of the “residence” to which one is restricted: its perimeter is no longer defined as “a given territorial area or location” (1955), but as “the place that [the Minister of the Interior] defines” (2015). A house arrest may affect no longer just “any person whose activities are shown to be dangerous for public security and order” (1955), but “any person for whom there are serious reasons to think that their behavior represents a threat to public security and order” (2015).
The penalties have increased. Offenders no longer risk “imprisonment for 8 days to two months and a fine ranging from 11 euros to 3,750 euros, or either of these two penalties” (1955), but “six months’ prison and a 7,500-euro fine” for violating restrictions on circulation or right of residence or for trespassing onto closed-off public areas; “one year of prison and a 15,000-euro fine” for failing to check in at a police station or to abstain from contacting given persons, and “three years of prison and a 45,000-euro fine” for violating house arrest.
To the horror of the massacre has now been added a headlong rush toward repression. Many voices were raised from the start to protest that these legal measures of exception might serve not so much to fight terrorism as to muzzle civil society. Events since then show that the executive branch has indeed used these new measures to smother any form of protest.
A ban on demonstrations and the repression of those that do take place, such as the one in support of migrants’ rights on November 22 at place de la Bastille or the one on November 29 at place de la République for the opening of the COP21 (317 people taken into custody); 24 house arrests imposed on climate activists (with certain people being required to check in three times a day at a police station, as is the case for Joël Domenjoud, member of the legal team of Coalition Climat 21); a series of arbitrary and violent searches and seizures; the blocking of demonstrators coming for the COP21 from outside Paris, such as the gathering of tractors and bicycles in protest of the proposed airport in Notre Dame des Landes; the deportation of many foreigners and the many refusals to allow entry onto French territory; the closing of the University of Paris 7, where students sought to organize meetings about climate change on November 28 and 29; the forcible expulsion of activists from the “greenwashing exhibition” at the Grand Palais on December 4 – the list of police abuses grows longer by the day.
Instead of responding to terror with more democracy, more openness and tolerance, as Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg invited his country to do after the killings of Utoya on July 22, 2011, French decision-makers have chosen the path of repression. Holding elections in such a climate shows just how seriously these leaders take the voice of civil society. At a time when, as the results of the first round of the regional elections on December 6 have shown, the political class in power is viewed with great distrust (with 50 percent abstention and 28 percent of the votes cast for the National Front), the state of emergency is a convenient way for the authorities to protect themselves against a critical citizenry.
The primary victims of this escalation of security measures are racialized minorities: Blacks, Arabs, Rroms, Muslims and refugees. The nearly exclusive understanding of the November 13 attacks assumes that they bear a clear and evident relation to Islam. Public discussion, which gives a totally disproportionate place to “Islam” and is structured around a distinction between “moderate” and “radical” Muslims, thus exhibits a violently Islamophobic character. The numerous appeals to national unity, the omnipresence of “clash of civilizations” rhetoric (including in its blandest and most consensual forms) and the mobilization in public institutions around an aggressive and partisan version of secularism (laïcité), a bill to deprive the authors of terrorist acts of their French citizenship – all these measures are signs of mounting Islamophobia in France.
This reactionary and securitarian backlash openly contradicts the rhetoric spouted by its promoters. In reality, the November 13 attacks were acts of war – a tragic reminder of the imperialist actions of the French republic. What indeed is France’s policy in the Middle East? The crazed Manichaeism of public discourse is completely at odds with the confusion reigning inside the war zone. For the government, war crimes such as the bombing of Raqqa take the place of strategic thought.
These political developments are directly related to the inhuman treatment inflicted on refugees, whose number has never been so great since World War II. The attacks of November 13 have resulted in their further criminalization and have been used to justify sealing the borders even more tightly than before for the very people who are fleeing the violence of ISIS. If any “values” are under attack, it is those of openness and hospitality, which are supposedly fundamental to the project of the European Union.
We refuse to approve these choices because, today as before, nothing can justify the state of emergency, nor the designating of an internal enemy, nor war, nor the questioning of jus soli, nor the abandonment of thousands of people on the roads of exodus. The lifting of the state of emergency is necessary for a public debate to take place on the reasons behind these attacks. This debate is crucial to making sure they don’t happen again.
1. Out of 558 members of parliament voting, 551 voted for the measure and 6 against, with one abstention. Those who voted “no” were Isabelle Attard (EELV), Sergio Coronado (EELV), Noël Mamère (EELV), Pouria Amirshahi (PS), Barbara Romagnan (PS) and Gérard Sebaoun (PS).
2. “The National Assembly and the Senate are informed without delay of the measures taken by the Government during the state of emergency. They may require any additional information in the framework of their monitoring and evaluation of these measures.”
3. The Minister of the Interior may require for a person under house arrest 1) the obligation to present him/herself periodically to police or gendarme units (…), 2) the obligation to turn over his or her passport or any other identity document (…) and the prohibition (…) from being in relation, directly or indirectly, with certain persons.