On July 14, Bastille Day, a national holiday celebrating the French Revolution, a Franco-Tunisian man drove a truck through the crowds killing 84 people and leaving many more wounded. The attack was the third big terrorist attack in France since January 2015. The Islamic State claimed the attack, despite the fact that authorities have found no direct connection between the man and the terrorist organization. France has declared a state of emergency after the law of 3 April, 1955. The law on the state of emergency dates back to the Algerian War, a war fought between colonizer France and the Algerian liberation movement. The state of emergency must last no more than three months unless parliament approves its extension. Since 14 November, 2015, when the state of emergency was declared after attacks in a nightclub in Paris, the French state has extended the state of emergency four times, including on July 15, after the Nice attacks. What does it mean?
The state of emergency provides the police and courts powers that they would normally not have. For instance, under the state of emergency, the police can enter the home of a suspected terrorist without a court warrant. Concerns over the efficacy of the state of emergency have been heard since the Nice attacks. Those who oppose the state of emergency claim, with good reasons, that the state of emergency undermines the rights of citizens and fails to prevent terrorism. There are countless stories of excessive use of police force against minority groups and an increasing militarization of the urban landscape. In fact, if you visit France now you will witness soldiers armed with rifles patrolling the biggest monuments of Paris, the airport, and major state buildings. Every police station has erected barracks with police officers guarding it 24/7 with big guns. Moreover, demonstrations and big crowds attract dozens of riot police cars on a regular basis. This is France under the threat of terrorism. Despite this heavy police and military presence, however, terrorism is still a possibility. The methods of attack have varied from machine guns, bombs, to trucks. The Nice attacker, moreover, was not known by the secret service, thus pointing to the fact that the police state undermines democracy and fails to prevent terrorism.
Opposing groups want the end to the state of emergency. They claim that a democratic state is stronger against terrorism than a police state. Under the state of emergency, popular assemblies and crowd gatherings can be forbidden for “security” reasons. Those living in poorer neighborhoods, particularly those of immigrant extraction, feel the presence of the police state more heavily. Racial and ethnic profiling have the devastating effects of alienating and disenfranchising a big portion of the population – one of the reasons why many young Muslims radicalize in these same neighborhoods. The best fight against terrorism and radicalization, in my view, necessitates a better policy of integration into society. Unemployment, discrimination and exclusion are problems that are more acutely felt by minority groups in France. An effective fight against terrorism needs a political economic system that is able to absorb a larger number of the population into the labor market. Under current capitalist conditions, however, the only response states have against terrorism (and long-term unemployment) is further securitization and shrinking democratic rights.