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France’s state of emergency- the new normal?

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Image: WikiCommon

Earlier this year, French president Emmanuel Macron announced that the state of emergency would be extended to the 1st November 2017, and as the latest lapse of the regime is being renewed, has this really become the “new normal”?

Firstly, a little bit of context. The state of emergency was introduced in France as far back as 1955 during the Franco-Algerian war, resulting in more power given to the military to help protect the country during the conflict with Algerian forces in North Africa. As it stands nowadays, it means that the French government has the power to ban protests, keep terrorist suspects on house arrest, and have checks at cultural and sporting events. These measures were introduced after the terrorist attacks of November 2015 in Paris, when over 100 people lost their lives after shootings at the Stade de France, the Bataclan concert hall and at other locations in the area. Terrorism reared its head again after the lorry attack on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice in the south the following July, which resulted in the state of emergency being extended again after many died and scores were injured.

I also can’t help feeling a little uneasy at the sight of the black-and-red Vigipirate triangle at entrances warning that bags will be checked…

Having been in Paris for two months, it’s not been difficult to notice the increased police and security presence: at major tourist attractions, metro stations, even in supermarkets, where cashiers ask shoppers to show the contents of their trolleys and shopping bags, as I quickly discovered. I also can’t help feeling a little uneasy at the sight of the black-and-red Vigipirate triangle at entrances warning that bags will be checked, despite me being from London and generally feeling safe despite the everyday threat of terrorism. Having already been extended for the fifth time since the attacks in November 2015, and now just extended again, it seems that this state of vigilance is highly likely to continue. During his election campaign president Macron emphasised that he would increase police presence, and other candidates were similarly grilled on their stance on the matter. Just recently Macron also announced further measures including a new security policy in the pipeline for early 2018.

Robert Zaretsky writing for Foreign Policy in 2016 wrote that this state was close to becoming “France’s new ordinary”, and one year later, I’m inclined to agree. It could certainly be argued that that terrorism is now an ordinary occurrence, around the world as well as closer to home. The fact that there have been attacks in Paris as well as in the UK, makes it feel as though the threat is now very close. In addition, increased security in everyday places such as supermarkets affirms that it’s becoming normal.

Image: WikiCommons

What strikes me further about the situation is that it has wider social implications. Specifically, involving those from a Muslim background. It seems that rejecting people from that certain background is becoming the French norm. Indeed, from what I’ve observed and read, the French government and to some extent the media are pointing the finger, as the radicalisation of French Muslims supposedly contributed to the recent attacks. It’s because of this radicalisation that the French government is going to be introducing harsher measures for those with no proper right to stay in France. While this is certainly understandable in the interest of national security, the view that is certainly extreme. Now I can accept that it’s occasionally difficult to separate fact from fiction, but it can’t be right to exclude them purely because they belong to that certain religious group. Unfortunately, some have taken it to be fact more than others, and I’m frankly disappointed that it’s like that. Paris is a tolerant city, there are people from all over the world here, as in other parts of France, and there are many Muslim migrants, mainly from the Maghreb region. While being vigilant is important, indeed essential, to help prevent further attacks on innocent citizens, it’s also worth bearing in mind that those being falsely targeted due to prejudice have done nothing wrong. In the authorities’ eyes, they just so happen to belong to the same group of people that have no mercy when it comes to incidents that cause fatalities.

While being vigilant is important, indeed essential, to help prevent further attacks on innocent citizens, it’s also worth bearing in mind that those being falsely targeted due to prejudice have done nothing wrong.

Despite all this, Parisian life carries on. People still visit the Louvre, use public transport and sit outside cafés enjoying their evenings. Yes, there was a time of fear and sorrow, which was marked appropriately, but amazingly Parisians stood together to denounce the attacks in their beloved city, as citizens of Manchester and London did earlier this year.

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3rd year French and German student currently on placement in Paris, fledgling Exeposé foreign correspondent.

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