“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
A year after the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and shook the country, the French government has responded by tightening its criminal code, expanding police powers and, for the first time since 1872, creating a national guard.
The Interior Ministry says it will create a new enhanced security status, which will let more private security guards carry arms. But more guns on the street won’t fix deeper failings within French intelligence agencies.
“Every terrorist who attacked Paris, in January or November, was previously known by our intelligence services,” Georges Fenech, of France’s Parliamentary Investigative Committee on Terrorism, told VICE News correspondent Katie Engelhart. “Some had even been convicted. It was, for us, a defeat of our intelligence services.”
Fenech led France’s official investigations into the 2015 terrorist attacks and has called for a “French Guantanamo” to be built on French soil. Yet critics accuse the government of taking things too far, surrendering vital civil liberties under the cover of an ongoing state of emergency.
“In exceptional circumstances, we need exceptional means,” he said. “We think we have to go further.”
The nation has spent three days mourning after the Bastille Day truck attack in a state of stupefaction and surreality
It being Saturday, the usual line of faces from the Maghreb and Africa was absent outside the Réception des Étrangers – the foreigners’ reception centre – in Paris when, shortly after first light, a woman police officer climbed a ladder at the entrance to the local police headquarters at Montparnasse and carefully wrapped the tricolore flag in a black ribbon.
Only a man called Imad Abdel Amass, from Morocco, came, to check opening times. Amass, like the killer in Nice, is a “binational”, on whom much attention is now falling, as three days of mourning begin.
The same was happening to flags all over France – reeling from yet further appalling carnage. Words like “shock”, “grief” and “outrage”, “fear” and “anger” are yet again currency of the moment. Beneath cuts a rip-tide: the sense that this is not a breakdown of order, but a new order of things. “We have to prepare ourselves to become habituated to this,” reflected Gérard Etiennez, tying another black ribbon to the little flag on his cutlery and bric-a-brac stall in the market along Boulevard Lefebvre during early morning.
François Hollande on Saturday convened a special “council of security”, planning the next moves beyond an extension of the state of emergency declared after the attacks of 13 November and special powers regarding binationals and suspects. He did so faced with vitriol from the right wing. “A response without pity”, thundered the front page of Le Figaro. “We’re fighting a war! it is said. What war? We live as though we were in peace! ‘Aux Armes!’ they cry, but our arms are candles, hashtags and the sub-texts of our penal code.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) listens to French President Francois Hollande as they leave their news conference in Moscow on Thursday. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
In the last leg of his diplomatic tour to win support for a coordinated effort against ISIS, French President Francois Hollande on Thursday secured a pledge of cooperation from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reports for our Newscast unit:
“With both countries still reeling from ISIS-claimed attacks that killed hundreds of their citizens, Hollande traveled to Russia to ask President Vladimir Putin to focus his offensive against ISIS, and not other opposition groups to President Bashar al Assad.
“The two leaders agreed on three major points: to share intelligence, intensify and coordinate strikes and not to strike any group fighting ISIS. Obtaining the last point is seen as a victory for Hollande.”
In the wake of the Nov. 13 terror attacks on Paris, which killed 130 people and injured hundreds of others, Hollande met separately with President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
François Hollande declared France is at war, but it is the uncompromising Valls who is overseeing the country’s response to the Paris attacks
Inside his heavily guarded official residence on the left bank, Manuel Valls, the tough-talking prime minister who has orchestrated France’s hardline security response to the Paris terrorist attacks, was uncompromising that the country’s war on terror would last a long time amid a “permanent” threat of more attacks.
If François Hollande has declared “France is at war” and set out to travel the world this week in search of an international coalition against Islamic State (Isis), it is the straight-talking “strongman” Valls who has crafted and pushed tough security measures at home and set about explaining them to a fearful and grieving nation.
Valls has spearheaded the nationwide state of emergency that will last at least three months, giving special powers to police to act without judicial oversight, and he has gone further than Hollande in his heightened language warning of the risk of a chemical attack. French radio even reported that at one point during crisis meetings about the Paris attacks on a stadium, bars and the Bataclan theatre – in which 130 people were killed in three hours – an impassioned Valls walked up to Hollande and shook him.
At an informal meeting with a handful of foreign media outlets, including the Guardian, Valls said France’s war would be long and lasting but “we will win on all fronts” abroad – against Isis – and at home, against the radicalised young people taking up arms against their fellow French. He believed Europe was “facing its destiny” and must prove it could deal with both the terrorism threat and the refugee crisis if voters were not going to turn towards populism. He said France would take no more refugees beyond the 30,000 already agreed for the next two years.
Valls, a reform-minded social democrat whose pro-business, unorthodox socialist politics have seen him likened to Tony Blair, and whose uncompromising stance has drawn comparisons with Nicolas Sarkozy, said France was facing a new era in terrorism: a form of multiple and coordinated attacks on civilian targets organised from outside the country and within.