July 7, 2016

From one terror to another: A view from France on the aftermath of the ISIS attacks in Paris

Movement of Young Communists of France poster:
"The problem is not the refugees, it's the war in Iraq, Syria, etc..."

Louis Souchière

2015 will, without any doubt, be a year French children will be learning about in history classes for decades to come. From the assault on Charlie Hebdo in January, to the aftermath of the attack that took 129 lives in Paris in November, the international media and social networks have been flooded with controversies and messages of support focused on the French people. The so called “war on terror” was once again revitalized as one of the biggest concerns in the West with more and more countries dedicating resources to the bombing of Iraq and Syria. The French government, which quickly passed a bill to conduct more air strikes in Syria, was itself making loud declarations about how France would now be “in a state of war” as “retaliation strikes” on Raqqa were launched no more than two weeks after the attack.

The reinforcement of imperialist policies, with the French military being once again a part of the tip of the spear in efforts that have already destabilised many countries, from Libya to Syria, is not the only effect the attacks of 2015 had on the country. What is less known to the international community is the effect the aftermath of these attacks had for French people themselves, especially racialized minorities and Muslim communities, the latter accounting for around 8% of the country’s population.

The proclamation of the state of emergency on the 14th of November (a few hours after the attacks) and the vote by the parliament to strengthen and prolong it for 3 months on the 19th of November, was just the beginning. The legislation was followed by more than 3000 administrative, unwarranted searches, more than 300 compulsory residence orders (restricting the freedom of movement of an individual) and a massive increase in the presence of the French national police and military in the street of Paris, most large cities and many suburbs where racialized, working class minorities live. ID checks, bag searches, arbitrary detentions and extended time in police custody without charges being laid, have become part of everyday life in many places across the country. More and more figures and independent media from the radical left are starting to refer to the current trend as a shift from a “State of Rights” to a police state.

At the same time, as was the case following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, there has been a huge rise in Islamophobic acts all around the country. With the gang beating of a young Muslim in the center of Lyon, several acts of aggression toward Muslim women, the vandalizing of Mosques and Halal shops and, recently, an “anti-Arab” riot in Ajaccio, the slogan of “no confusion” (between Muslims, racialized people and ‘terrorists’) seems inadequate to counter the reality of the suffering of Muslim communities and, more generally Arab and Black people in France. Far from trying to address the issue, the French government is today stoking the Islamophobic debate through pushing for a constitutional reform that is seeking to curtail citizenship rights by allowing for the State to strip those with dual citizenship convicted of terrorist offenses of their French citizenship. Canadian readers will remember the Harper Conservatives passed similar legislation, Bill C-24, in an attempt to promote Islamophobic sentiment, which the new Liberal government has promised to repeal.

This will to connect the security debate to a question of nationality and citizenship rights is not a stranger to the up-and-coming National Front (FN), which did not wait to mourn the victims before blaming Islam, immigrants and the current European migrant crisis. Following a successful round of regional elections, where the party lead by Marine LePen came close to winning two important French regions, often surpassing the more traditional liberal parties, it seems that the Socialist Party (which leads the government) has no shame in surfing on the success of what is supposed to be their primary enemy. Indeed, many of the proposals of the FN are found today in the draft of the constitutional reform proposed by the government.

Facing the complete treason of the Socialist Party, and failing to truly appear united, the Left Front (composed of the French Communist Party, the Left Party and several small organisations), the Greens, and various ultra-left parties, have been unable to appeal to the working class and the people that first fell victim to this dangerous political situation. The state of emergency makes most demonstrations illegal, which has already lead to multiple activists ending up in police custody and under house arrest during the COP21 environmental Paris conference in December. The weakening of the radical left comes at a time when the obsession for “security” does not prevent the government from passing more bills to attack workers’ rights, social security and the labour movement itself, as demonstrated by the eight trade unionists protesting the closure of the Goodyear factory who were recently sentenced to prison.

As dire as the situation appears, one thing is clear to those activists who witness and live through these troubled time: never before has the need for a revolutionary change been so big in recent years. As the congress of the French Communist Party approaches, and with it a renewal of the debate among the French radical left concerning the current situation and the coming 2017 presidential elections, it seems now is the time for those willing to tear apart the rising police state and the capitalist system in which it finds its root, to get to work in building a real coalition, composed of all those willing to oppose the “socialist” government and propose a real alternative to liberal and proto-fascist agendas currently held by the right opposition, the FN and the current government. The form that this coalition will take is the subject of lots of debate but one thing appears sure to all Marxists, it will have to be based on a real popular support coming with the involvement and participation of those who are today on the front lines of the attack carried against the most disenfranchised sections of the working class.

Louis Souchière is a graduate student living in Paris, who studied in Toronto this Spring. The article was written in early 2016, and there have been substantial developments in France since that time. The Socialist government has continued the austerity offensive through their new labour law. There has been mass resistance by labour, student and peoples' movements and severe repression of demonstrations and strikes.

This article is printed in Issue 20 of Rebel Youth which is now available! The issue deals has a focus on racism and anti-racist struggles. Find out more and subscribe today!

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