Paris: Security Trumps Liberty?

By Andrej Mrevlje |

“Paris in flames” and “Paris under siege,” the headlines read after the terrible terrorist attack on Friday night in the capital of “joie de vivre.” These headlines evoke the Second World War, when Paris, the “city of sin,” had been punished, raped and tortured by the German Nazis.

French media added to the tension on Friday night, when in shock, they tried to underline the horror of the attacks by choosing equally dramatic words, comparing the terrorist attack to WWII.

What is happening is not the past but the horrible future. Just listen to the words of Francois Hollande, the president of France, day after the carnage: “The attack is an act of war and faced with the war the country has to take appropriate steps. It’s an act of war which was committed by a terrorist army – Daesh, a Jihadist army, against France, against the values we uphold throughout the world, against who we are: a free country which speaks to the whole planet. It’s an act that was prepared, organized and planned from the outside with the help of inside.”

During his first address to the nation on the night of attack, Hollande informed French citizens that he had ordered the closing of the country’s borders and he sent the army out on the streets of Paris.

This is actually is the first time that has happened since WWII. But not many media outlets have noticed or reported this in spite of the fact that President Hollande said this openly just few hours after the attacks.

While Hollande promised that the fight against the attackers will be without mercy, Nicolas Sarkozy,the former president of France who spoke on Saturday few minutes after Hollande, said that France should respond with total war and requested the drastic security measures.

So, is France preparing its own Patriot Act, the package of security measures that was introduced in the U.S. by President George W. Bush right after the 9/11 attacks? The language President Hollande is using is similar to what Bush used. Will France be joining the U.S. in a global war against the terrorism, one that does not eliminate, but generates violence?

The attack on France is not without precedent since it happened only 10 months after attack on Charlie Hebdo, when 17 people were killed. If the attack in January was done by professionals but organized in a pretty spontaneous way, the attack on Friday presents a much more complex scenario and is very similar to the one in Mumbai.

As in Mumbai, the terrorists in Paris attacked less protected “soft targets,” like restaurants and the concert hall, while the attack on the stadium, distant from the downtown, was done to distract French security forces from the main targets of the attack.

The three suicide bombers who exploded themselves in front of the Stade de France, where the soccer game between France and Germany attracted a crowd of 80,000, never had a chance to get into the stadium and kill on a large scale. Was it because the stadium was better protected or because of the presence of President Hollande, who after the explosions was whisked away by the secret service? We do not know yet.

French authorities, however, did well to let the game to continue, without informing the audience that three terrorists had just blown themselves up at the gate of the sports arena, so that police could deal with the chaos in the city. However, all the reports from Paris not only talk about the horror of the shooting but also of the eerie feeling on the streets, where people were locked in their houses or restaurants without being allowed or dare to walk outside because of the fear of more shooting.

France embodies everything religious zealots everywhere hate: enjoyment of life here on earth in myriad little different ways:a fragrant cup of coffee and buttery croissant in the morning, beautiful women in short dresses smiling freely on the street, the smell of warm bread, of bottle of wine shared with the friends, a dab of perfume, children playing in the Luxembourg, the right not to believe in any god, not to worry about calories,to flirt and smoke and to enjoy sex outside of marriage, to take vacations,to read any book you want,to go to school for free, to play, to laugh, to argue, to make fun of prelates and politicians alike,to leave worrying about after life to the dead. No country does life on earth better on earth than the French.

This post, which comes from Facebook and apparently belongs to a New York Times reader I could not trace, illustrates perfectly the fear of what has been lost on Friday night in Paris. (Subsquently and with the help of my friend , who is very good reader, I  was able to trace the source  of the above quote. It appeared as a commentary of this piece in New York Times,  under the name Blackpoodles.) With this terrible Paris night, we are all losing a bit of the joy of life, as yet another morceau of the world is moving towards militarization. In the last month we’ve witnessed the end of an institution – a borderless Europe — as border controls were reestablished to stem the tide of refugees. Now our style of life is making dramatic steps backward.

There are many other things that get tested during these dramatic moments of humanity. The media industry, for instance: to my mind, reading online written reports from any corner of the world this time won strongly over cable TV news. I started to follow the cable reports four hours after it happened. When flipping through all the available international channels, the confusion was huge and one could not get a clear picture of what was going on in Paris. It was only after I started reading online written reports that I got it.

It became clear to me how advanced and good some media has become and that the aircraft carriers of the press, like The New York Times, will be really hard to sink in spite of the current industry crises.

Social media also displayed its strengths. Facebook proved far more useful than the State Department for those trying to find out the fates of people, friends and relatives  who might have been roaming the streets of Paris on Friday night. And Twitter’s Moments did a remarkable job of bringing Paris into our pockets.

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