By Emily Holland and Hadas Aron
The attack on families celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice marks the third terrorist attack on French soil in 18 months. The horrific attack came only hours after President Francois Hollande announced that the state of emergency that was declared after the Paris attacks in November would finally be lifted on July 26. Hollande had to retract his decision: the state of emergency will continue. But while there needs to a full reckoning on the part of the intelligence and security services, history makes clear that a protracted state of emergency in which liberties are suspended will not protect French citizens from terror.
After an emergency meeting, French PM Manuel Valls confirmed that parliament would vote next week to extend the state of emergency that grants the police new powers including the power to hold people under house arrest without the order of a judge. Police also have the power to raid suspect’s homes without a warrant or judiciary oversight. The state of emergency also allows for restrictions on large gatherings. Although opinion polls show that the public is largely in favor of these measures, lawyers and UN human rights specialists have warned that “the lack of clarity and precision of several provisions of the state of emergency and surveillance laws” will “seriously impact public freedoms.
Aside from the fact that these measures erode liberty and increase discriminatory practices, it has been demonstrated that emergency measures are largely ineffective. Not only does it exhaust already overextended police forces, but targeting minority populations who already feel disconnected from society at large risks alienating them even further. As we have seen in yesterday’s attacks, most terrorists are home grown, and their tactics are evolving in response to a crackdown on traditional sources of weapons. Although the use of a car to kill pedestrians has been relatively rare in Europe, this tactic has been employed repeatedly in Israel and the occupied territories in a series of lethal attacks. Yesterday’s horrific attacks show that a state of emergency is ineffectual against a French citizen who chooses to use a rented truck as a weapon.
In fact, security measures to help minimize the effects of terrorism or even prevent it require far larger resources than a legal state of emergency. In countries like Israel or Turkey where terrorism is prevalent, security is present and visible everywhere. This ranges from armed security personnel at every public and commercial building, shopping center or school, compulsory bag checks, no traffic security zones around every public gathering and road blocks. In these states, a car driving into a crowd in a known gathering and killing dozens would be inconceivable. However, this kind of security requires resources western democracies might not be ready to allocate. Terror prevention measures cost money that has to come from somewhere: the usual victims are welfare, education and culture. The visibility of these measures also makes life less convenient and can seem to citizens as if terrorism is changing the face of their country and their daily lives. Sadly, it does.
The changes that terrorism brings need to at least protect the lives of citizens as well as be sensitive to relationships between communities. Instating a state of emergency in France is the exact opposite. The French law governing the état d’urgence dates back to the Algerian war for independence, when it was put under a prolonged state of emergency for over two years, well beyond conclusion of hostilities in Algeria. The 1955 law was designed to crack down on the Algerians: not only by controlling them militarily, but also by restricting their freedom of movement and preventing them from gathering to exchange ideas. The state of emergency was also designed to give the government as much power as possible without declaring a state of siege-which would have handed power over to the military for the duration of the crisis. During this period French forces used systematic torture, population transfers and interment camps, and was accompanied by the “Algerianization” of the home front. In a particularly shameful incident, the law was used to impose a curfew for French Muslims in Paris who defied it by staging a peaceful demonstration in 1961. The French police attacked, killing hundreds. The government did not acknowledge the massacre until 2012 and the number of fatalities is still unconfirmed.
Addressing the nation on Friday morning, Hollande announced, “France has been struck on the day of her national holiday—July 14, Bastille Day—the symbol of liberty, because human rights are denied by fanatics and France is clearly their target.” But responding to terror by suspending the very liberties that define France is a mistake. The aim of terrorists is to fracture society along already tense cleavages. The French government must pursue a clear-long term strategy for dealing with a serious radicalization problem, but they must do so by respecting the values of the Republic: liberté, égalité and fraternité.