By Marguerite Gallorini
PARIS, FRANCE – After January’s Charlie Hebdo’s shootings and the more recent prevented terrorist attack on a church near Paris in the morning of April 22, we are told that freedom of expression is threatened, and the old 9/11 War against Terror concept has resurfaced; as a response, governments take even further steps towards censorship and surveillance. For a couple of months, all the “I am Charlie” tags only kept fostering the reading of the world in black and white, Eastern Terror against the Right and Free West, whereas it is far from being so dichotomous.
It is hard not to fall for the obvious and easiest view when dreadful events happen: we want an explanation right away and settle for the easy one, to soothe our confused minds. But now that passions have died down a little, it would be more constructive to try and not amalgamate the effects for the causes. It should also be reminded that trying to find the cause, and putting ourselves under a critical light is not about excusing what the attackers did, but explaining it and thereby trying to effectively prevent it in the future.
These attacks and 9/11 do have common points: we blamed Islamist terrorism without trying to understand the problems that were raised, and in both democratic America and Europe, governments have taken the opportunity to pass legislations widely affecting their citizens’ right to privacy.
First of all, on a foreign policy perspective, it is no longer possible to ignore our governments’ implication and hypocrisy, when we know that Iran and the Hezbollah are no longer considered as threatening terrorist entities, and that the Iraqi Kurds who helped the American air force to take back Kobane from ISIS earlier this year are part of an organization that has been listed as terrorist for a decade both by the US and Europe. Making friends with former enemies and vice versa does not ease tensions in the Middle East.
No wonder then that people constantly living in a warzone, with foreign powers adding to – and empowering – some scattered fanatic tribes, can grow a hatred for the said foreign powers, or take refuge in extreme views and ideologies giving them the illusion that they truly matter. As underlined in an excellent article from the French Monde Diplomatique of April by Alain Gresh, “besides its blurry and doubtful feature, the use of the concept of terrorism tends to depoliticize analyses and thereby to make it impossible to understand the problems that are raised”. What is more, it needs me reminded that we focus much more on the fact that we (the West) have been targeted, than the fact that Muslim countries are the ones mostly stricken by terrorist attacks.
Therefore, let us move on to a more national basis, as in the case of Charlie Hebdo’s attack where the lost assailants were coming directly from within the nation-state – a fact the French government tries not to say out loud, by emphasizing more their link to ISIS, so as not to admit they created their own monsters. That is the stance of another article from the French independent news website Mediapart on April 1st, by Reginald Blanchet, psychoanalyst in Athens since 1998, ex-president of the Hellenic Society of the New Lacanian School and member of the World Association of Psychoanalysis. He wrote about the important psycho-social factors of such radicalizations, far from religious pseudo-explanations as is always brandished. The issue is one of lack of identity, which DAESH seems to provide, contrary to their countries of origin rejecting them from the day they were born.
Indeed the major common point to all of the assailants in Paris, Blanchet writes, is their seclusion: often being second-generation immigrants, they do not share the same affinities (language, religion, culture) as their parents with their countries of origin, and on the other hand they are also at the margins of mainstream society, mostly because of their spatial segregation in the “banlieues” – the fringes of cities, with the highest rate of unemployment and thus of delinquency. In France, 15,7% of the country’s families live in HLM (low-rent and often deplorable social accommodations, the direct equivalent of the “housing projects” created in North America after WWII); in Paris’s banlieues, this proportion rises to 22,6%.
On the educational level, these areas are also often ZEPs (Educational Priority Zone) where teaching means as much being a teacher and a social worker for the kids. One of those teachers, following the Charlie Hebdo shootings, was desperate: “I want to tell them they’re going to make it, that they’ll have a good job and a nice life”, she said in between sobs, “but it’s hard when you know it’s not going to happen for them.” Ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy used to claim “France: you love it, or you leave it”. What if you love it, but France does not love you back?
Therefore we keep blaming religion, because the attackers claim to act in behalf of the Islamic State; but this has nothing to do with Islamism. Any war whatsoever will claim to act in behalf of something anyway – like the American war against Terror, for “democracy”: two antithetic terms in the same clause that oddly hasn’t much shocked people. A proof of that obvious apparent link, but which holds no ground once we dig into it, is that these “new generation” jihadists were almost all atheists, and then converted to radical Islam only once they became acquainted with extremist Islamist websites or gurus – often in jail – that provided them with a sense of belonging somewhere, of self-importance. Radicalization precedes Islamization. What is more, the 16 000 foreigners part of DAESH’s 30 000 fighters, placed in regards of the 1.6 billion of Muslims in the world (according to Pew Research Center’s numbers), shows the irrelevance of it all: it is a personal background issue, stemming from poor social conditions.
The other common point between the European attacks and the American 9/11 is the propensity of the States to use the confusion of people following such events to pass legislation which would never have gone ignored by the public otherwise. Under cover of preventing other terrorist attacks – which could have been avoided in the first place with the existing laws and procedures, had they been applied appropriately – the French States and the US have modified established civil privacy protections to broaden surveillance powers. As explained in an article on escalating US police surveillance after 9/11 by William Bloss from the military school of South Carolina “The Citadel”, the 2001 USA Patriot Act gave law enforcement officials the power to conduct searches without warrants, to monitor financial transactions and eavesdrop, and detain and deport – in secret – individuals suspected of committing terrorist acts. It was also originally set to expire in 2005, but was renewed in 2006.
Thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, we also now know that the NSA has conducted the wiretapping of domestic phone calls and emails without any warrant, following a secret authorization by ex-President Bush, dating from 2002 – although the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) already permitted such wiretapping on an emergency basis and apply for warrants retroactively. As reminded by the release of the 2014 documentary Citizenfour on Snowden, there is a price to pay for wanting to expose the truth in a democratic country. While the defense of the country is, of course, fundamental, the concern about the escalating trade-off of privacy rights for the past years remains.
Recently the French government followed the lead by presenting the third anti-terrorism legislation under President Hollande, whereas the past two have not yet been fully applied. Having been reviewed until April 16th, it is to be officially adopted on May 5th, this law is aimed at broadening the French intelligence’s mass surveillance; the bill will also enable intelligence services to get a retroactive warrant, as is said on page 10 of the bill (published in full length on Mediapart). But more worryingly, the government will also be able to censor websites on the Internet, and detect threats on the basis of “suspect series of connection data”. Besides terrorist tracking, this could have a great deterring effect for anyone who would like to inform themselves on subversive topics – this is yet another means to make the population believe that the official version is the true version.
The legislation will also allow the instantaneous collection of data, directly on networks. Once again, the concern is about the opaque way these operations will take place; even the French National Commission on Informatics and Liberties (CNIL) is worried about the new widely intrusive extent of this legislation, with no clearly defined perimeter. Anti-terrorist judge Marc Trévidic, interviewed by the Express, also voiced his concern and the fact that this legislation extends much further than that anti-terrorism only. At the hour when the States themselves increasingly and incrementally violate their citizens’ right to privacy and deter them to speak freely on the Internet, there are no “I am Charlie” signs to be seen.
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