Talking Justice: The Aftermath of the Paris Attacks

Talking Justice: The Aftermath of the Paris Attacks

On the night of November 13 last year, 130 people were killed and more than 350 injured in a series of attacks carried out on the streets of Paris by Islamist extremists.

As the violence was still unfolding, France’s President François Hollande declared a state of emergency and deployed troops on the streets of the French capital. Since then, the police have acted under emergency powers to carry out more than 3,500 property searches without judicial review, and placed more than 350 people under “assigned residence orders,” designating them a “threat to national security” and requiring them to report several times a day to a police station.

On February 16, the French parliament voted to extend the state of emergency by another three months. At the same time, the government is pushing through changes to the constitution that would make it possible to strip French citizenship from dual nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism—an apparent response to the fact that several of the attackers were French citizens.

In this episode of Talking Justice, we talk to Dominique Curis of Amnesty International France about the impact of these measures on the country’s sizable Muslim minority, which accounts for around 7.5 percent of France’s population.

We also hear from Olivier Roy, a leading thinker on Europe’s relationship with Islam. He argues that the challenge for France—and Europe—is not the radicalization of Muslim communities; instead, he sees a “generational revolt” by a specific set of young extremists, who have adopted a violent and simplistic interpretation of Islam’s ultraconservative Salafi movement.

Learn More

Transcript

Show transcript  

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

It was a Friday evening in Paris at the Stade de France. The national football team was playing Germany. In central Paris, the bars and restaurants were full on an unseasonably warm November evening. At the Bataclan Theatre on the Boulevard Voltaire in the 11th arrondissement, a crowd was watching a performance of an American rock band.

MALE REPORTER:

The police have now confirmed at least four attacks in the city of Paris.

FEMALE REPORTER:

At least 120 people confirmed dead at this hour, as well as eight attackers. Scenes of carnage at six different locations across Paris.

MALE REPORTER:

More than 120 people have been killed in Paris, and more than 200 are injured in a series of attacks across the city.

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

By the end of the night, more than 130 people were confirmed killed, and many more injured in a series of shootings and bombings aimed at sowing terror among innocent civilians. France was in shock. I’m Jim Goldston of the Open Society Justice Initiative. This month, in Talking Justice, we’ll be looking at how France has responded to the devastating attacks of last November 13, carried out by young men in the name of the Islamic State, or Daesh.

(FOREIGN LANGUAGE NOT TRANSCRIBED)

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

The following Monday, November 16, France’s president, François Hollande, spoke to an extraordinary session of the French National Assembly and Senate held amid the gilded splendor of the Palace of Versailles.

(FOREIGN LANGUAGE NOT TRANSCRIBED)

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

“France is at war,” the president declared. And France would respond accordingly. The president had already used existing law to declare a state of emergency as news of the attacks broke, bringing the army onto the streets of the capital and making it easier for the police to carry out raids without prior approval by a magistrate.

At the end of President Hollande’s address, the assembled politicians applauded, then broke into a somber rendition of the Marseillaise, the French national anthem. In his remarks, the president promised to defend the rule of law and personal freedoms. But is France at risk of damaging the very principles that it holds up to the world in its search for security in this war against terror? And what impact is this having on France’s sizeable Muslim minority?

In early February, Amnesty International published a report which examines how the emergency measures in France are being implemented. It argues that house searches and assigned residence orders, a form of house arrest, have been applied in an overly broad manner, and in some instances, arbitrarily. Amnesty says that French authorities have restricted human rights.

And more specifically, the rights to liberty, private life, freedom of movement, and freedom of assembly beyond what was strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. Joining me now is Dominique Curis of Amnesty International France. Thanks for joining us.

DOMINIQUE CURIS:

Hi.

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

Dominique, I wonder if you could give us an idea of the scale of the security response so far. What changes have the French authorities already put in place?

DOMINIQUE CURIS:

Since November 14, when the government declared the state of emergency, there has been more than 3,000 house searches and 400 people submitted to assigned residency measures. Without being charged of anything, or without being persecuted. That means without any traditional supervision. This is our main concern, is that these measures are taken towards people who are not officially suspected of any offense or crime.

Right now, at the time we’re talking, some people cannot move freely. Some people have lost their job, some people cannot go to work, cannot go to visit their family, have to show up at the police station three times a day without being accused or charged of anything. But, still, they are punished.

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

Who has borne the disproportionate impact that your report asserts is taking place?

DOMINIQUE CURIS:

Let’s look first at the law, what says the law, who can the we target with these measures? It says it can target any person whose behavior could constitute a threat to security and public order. And these are very vague words. That means we have seen people being submitted to these measures because they were planning or they were suspected to plan demonstration during the climate conference.

Right now, it seems according to the testimony that we received, many of the people who have been targeted, have been target because of their religious practice, or alleged religious practice—Muslim people who are said to be radicalized. But we have no legal definition of what radicalized mean. So we have very different kinds of people who are said to be radicalized because they are Muslim, and they feel targeted because of their religion.

I was talking with people these days, asking me, “What does it mean being radicalized? Is it praying five times a day? Is it going to the mosque? Is it because of that that I’ve been targeted?” And some other people telling me, “Well, what does it mean? You know, I smoke, I teach football to girls wearing mini shorts, and I don’t go to the mosque more than a couple of times a month. Am I a radical?”

And I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer them, because there is no legal definition and because there is no official explanation of why they have been targeted besides blank papers saying they might be radicalized.

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

In the report, Amnesty International calls on the French government to refrain from proposing to extend the current state of emergency unless it can demonstrate effectively that the situation reaches the very high threshold of public emergency, threatening the life of the nation. Don’t you think the government has demonstrated that? I note that during a February 5 session of the National Assembly, Prime Minister Valls said that the emergency measures were “efficacious and indispensable to the security of the French people.”

DOMINIQUE CURIS:

This is an exceptional measure that has to keep exceptional and time limited. We think we have in France a criminal code and legislative tools that allow to take preventive measures, that allow to investigate, to pursue, and to punish people who are suspected or convicted of any crime. So this is not like we wouldn’t have any way of acting against terrorism without state of emergency.

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

That was Dominique Curis of Amnesty International in France. Thank you very much for being with us, Dominique.

DOMINIQUE CURIS:

Thank you very much.

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

At the end of January, France saw a weekend of protests against the state of emergency, and against a push to change the constitution to make it possible to strip French citizenship from terrorist suspects of dual nationality. That proposal, still going through the legislature, led to the recent resignation of the justice minister, Christiane Taubira.

Born in French Guyana, Madam Taubira had been a sometimes-outspoken advocate for the rights of France’s minority communities. She argued that the denationalization measure essentially turned French people with a migrant background into second-class citizens.

An even broader question about France’s response so far has come from Olivier Roy, a sociologist teaching at the European University Institute in Florence, and a leading thinker on the role of political Islam in the modern world. Since well before last November’s attacks, Professor Roy has argued that Europe suffers from a dangerous misconception about the source of violent extremism.

Yes, five of nine perpetrators identified after the November attacks were French and two were Belgian. And several had fought with the Islamic State in Syria. But Professor Roy wrote this January that, “The terrorists are not the expression of a radicalization of the Muslim population, but, rather, reflect a generational revolt that affects a very precise category of youth.” Professor Olivier Roy joins me on the line now.

Professor, in addition to security responses, we’ve seen counterterrorism efforts that are aimed at forestalling potential extremists. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Prevent program has made it a statutory duty for teachers and health workers to report what are called “signs of radicalization” to the authorities. Does this risk provoking the very reaction it seeks to prevent by alienating members of Muslim communities?

OLIVIER ROY:

There is a current profile with most of the terrorists and the Jihadists. They are either second-generation, which means the children of immigrants who came to France in the labor organization or they are converts. We have very few first generation Muslims who recently came. We have very few third generation.

So what is in common between this second generation and converts? They all have some sort of generational grievance. They all have a problem of transmission of culture and, specifically, of religion. But when people radicalize and one decides to go for action, they choose always a certain type of Islam, namely Salafism.

And so, for me, Salafism, I would say, is the language of hate words because it provides these young guys with a narrative of the truth. The discourse of the Salafi teacher, it is always the same. If they are uprooted from their own culture and if they are not integrated in the Western culture, it’s positive because they can now build a real world Islam from scratch.

And this is precisely what Salafism is. Islam for dummies, in a sense. You can learn what is Islam from zero. And once you master, or you think you master some very basic knowledge, you have the truth, you are the masters of the truth. Especially, in front of your parents. They all blame their parents and they all try to convert their parents to Salafism.

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

Is this problem of generational grievance, that you say is specific to the second-generation migrants, is that something that’s unique to France? Or do you think that’s more generally a problem for European societies?

OLIVIER ROY:

It’s generally a problem for European societies. It’s probably France where it’s the greatest because because the deculturalization effect is stronger in France because, like today, with the political secularism. But a lot of pressure on immigrants to assimilate, that is, in a sense, to reject their culture of origin. But the sense of this deculturalization is taking place and generating in Great Britain, in Germany and Denmark, or Holland.

And we can see that the percentage of converts is about the same. Even in the U.S.A. the last few years, indicated by the security authorities, is at about 40% of young immigrants who want to turn jihad are converts.

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

I’m wondering, what are the implications then of your analysis for government policy and practice? Are there any principles that you think should shape the response of governments, whether of France or of others in Europe to the problems that you’ve identified?

OLIVIER ROY:

We know how this radicalization did occur in [UNINTELLIGBLE], for instance. [UNINTELLIGBLE] is also an important place of radicalization. The second issue is the fascination for violence among a certain youth. And not just the issue of jihad and terrorism.

If you look at the Columbine phenomena in the States, you see there are lots of characteristics in common. Suicidal action, but by some youth in the halls against society who don’t communicate with their parents, who use the internet as a way to play the hero and to stage their own action, taking pictures of oneself with guns on Facebook, and so on.

So we are confronted with something which goes beyond behind jihadism, and which is the fascination for violence and some suicidal nihilism among the youth, and even a physical violence, which is obviously used by Daesh to attack and to fascinate young people.

But there is also a third issue, which is Islam. Islam is not out of the picture. And here, I think, there are two directions. One is precisely to address the issue of Salafism, and not necessarily to forbid Salafi teachers—many of them are perfectly well behaved—but to address them on the issue of their moral responsibility.

And the second thing is we should not let Daesh and the Salafi have the monopoly of true Islam. And here, it’s a big problem, because all Western governments say that they would like to see the rise of a moderate Western Islam. The problem is that they do nothing to let emerge a moderate Western Islam. All of our governments, until now, are dealing with Middle Eastern governments for the management of Islam in Europe.

In France, we are making agreements with Morocco, with [UNINTELLIGBLE] in Egypt, with [UNINTELLIGBLE] governments. And I am not saying that these countries export extremist Islam. No, not at all. But they are not interested in Western Islam. They are interested to keep a diaspora relationship to the Muslims in Europe, and to keep the monopoly of Islam.

We should open the space to the intellectuals, religious people, who are in Europe and who are trying to speak because they are not listened to. Or they are considered almost afraid. So there is a need to accept. But religion has a place in the [UNINTELLIGBLE]. And that there are legitimate spiritual and religious needs that should be met, not by the government, but by religious people and institutions.

And especially in France, where the bond of secularism is strongly anti-religious, we have a big problem letting purely religious Islam be visible in the public space. So, in expelling, as you would say, religious signs from the public space, in expelling public expressions of faith and religious practices, we let the space open to radical Islam.

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

That was Professor Olivier Roy of the European University Institute in Florence. Professor, thank you so much for being with us today.

OLIVIER ROY:

You’re welcome.

JAMES A. GOLDSTON:

Challenging analysis from Olivier Roy on the way France has responded to the November terrorist attacks. And a reminder of the challenges facing not only France, but other countries in Europe and around the world. Unfortunately, the threat of terrorism and of reactions that may aggrevate the problem, is not going away.

Each attack, from Paris and San Bernardino to Ankara and Abuja, raises the stakes and the state of fear, which places intense pressure on government to halt the violence. As we’ve learned today, striking the right balance between liberty and security is not easy. Just as hard, and no less important, is correctly understanding what we’re up against and why. I’m Jim Goldston of the Open Society Justice Initiative. Please join me next month for another edition of our monthly podcast, Talking Justice.

Hide transcript