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France’s anti-terrorist battle plan incites anxiety amongst national organisations

Translated Monday 26 January 2015, by Philippa Griffin

In his address to the media, the prime minister highlighted, with startling candour, an onerous and longstanding collective national responsibility for having created “a territorial, social and ethnic apartheid”.

Military forces, arms, a new law and a database: Manuel Valls yesterday detailed strategies aimed at “bolstering France’s combat against terrorism”: a total investment of 735 million euros which has raised a number of pressing legal questions.

A fight awaits: not against “barbarism”, but against “apartheid”. Yesterday, Manuel Valls published a series of strategies aimed at “bolstering France’s combat against terrorism”. According to Matignon (the prime minister’s official Parisian residence), this comprises an investment of “735 million euros over a three-year period”. Valls was at pains to emphasise, however, that this would be “funded by savings across the public spending spectrum” and that recent events have thus not compromised his policy of strict budgetary control.

In support of this statement, the prime minister’s first move was to raise France’s official estimate of the “number of radicalised individuals who present a real terrorist threat to our country” to “nearly 3,000”: 1,800 implicated in foreign jihadi networks (of whom 1,300 have links to Syria and Iraq), and, in addition, approximately 1,000 individuals belonging to the “francophone cyber-jihad network.” This change of scale, Valls stressed, “necessitates, without exception, extreme measures on our part to ensure sufficient resources.” In addition to those already announced since 2012, Matignon announced the creation of 2,680 new jobs: 1,400 in the Interior ministry and 950 in the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Defence, moreover, will swell its ranks by nearly 250. A large part of the 735 million euros (425 million) will be dedicated to the development of “material support” for the police and the justice systems: improvements in IT systems and software, purchase of higher-performance arms, bullet-proof vests, extra patrol vehicles…

The prime minister has also indicated that the deadline for France’s new law, currently in the preparation phase, will be brought forward in order to allow a definitive vote to take place in June 2015. The objective of this law will be to “provide a legal framework” for counter-terrorism operations carried out on French soil. It will doubtless also seek to broaden the definition of such “operations”. It has not, however, been met with universal support. Laurence Blisson of the magistrates’ union, explains that “this approach concerns us: we fear it would be impractical to increase, for example, the scope of phone-tapping without reinforcing the juridical control of such activities”. The League of Human Rights yesterday expressed similar concerns. Also lacking credibility was the proposal to create a database of individuals “condemned or suspected of terrorist acts”. Blisson protests: “there is no way that condemned individuals can have been left completely unmonitored up until now. Likewise, requesting that such individuals turn themselves into a police station will in no way dissuade them from committing terrorist acts”.

Eager to embed his so-called “national unity”, Valls has not ruled out the possibility of “re-instituting the peine d’indignité nationale”, a punishment of the highest order consisting in the permanent removal of a suite of citizens’ rights including the vote, trade union membership and permission to hold senior professional roles. These sanctions were last instituted over sixty years ago during France’s postwar recovery period from 1944-1951, but last Thursday Nicolas Sarkozy issued a call for their revival. As a result, two Members of Parliament from the PS and the UMP have been commissioned to conduct a “crossparty examination” on the subject.

On a final note, Valls announced plans to create “five exclusive prison wings” for radicalised inmates and to recruit “60 prison imams”. “It could be a good idea to isolate certain inmates for a time”, responded Blisson. But we must ask ourselves: does incarceration, with its undignified living conditions, the total idleness in which inmates live and in particular the impossibility for many to practise their religion to the full, not pave the way for further radicalisation? Likewise, rather than re-institute the peine d’indignité nationale, let us root out those, in our society, who are responsible for having created the conditions which have allowed terrorists to thrive.

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