On Sunday in Paris, there was no “urban warfare.” But there was a clash of modest proportions between a large deployment of police and a small number of protesters. Three hundred were arrested but no one, police nor demonstrator, was injured, making very clear the nature and extent of the actual events.
The ban on demonstrations, part of the state of emergency decreed by President François Hollande, is an irresistible invitation to be transgressed — peacefully or by brushing with police. Both are happening regularly.
The terrorist attack on a peaceful demonstration in Ankara in October did set a precedent about safety during assemblies. But Islamic State attackers have shown their willingness to choose from countless concentrations of people in which sow death: markets, churches, public buildings, airplanes, subways, stadiums — places of the normal daily life which no one can force us to give up.
Apparently, then, the street protests against national or global policies are not considered a normal part of democratic life in the West.
It follows, then, that this is not a safety issue. Or at least not primarily. Rather, it is a demand for obedience and national discipline, for unconditional trust in the choices of those in power in times of war, regardless of the legitimacy of that demand.
There are many reasons we go to war: for example, when a president’s domestic popularity teeters dangerously, like that of pallid Hollande and also of Angela Merkel, who, hounded by the right and members of her own party for an immigration policy linked to her image, has finally joined the coalition in Syria. The effort to destroy Daesh is polluted and therefore weakened by a thick tangle of national interests and self-interests, as much at home as in the Middle East.
As for normal city life in the West, even on this front there seem to be no guarantees. Brussels was transformed for several days into a ghost town for the sake of arresting 21 people, 19 of whom will be immediately released. They found no arsenals, nor terrorists poised to strike. But the image of the capital of Europe reduced to a ghostly theater of war will remain long in our memory. No one will be called to account for this disproportionate reaction.
In Hanover, Germany, a stadium was evacuated, a train station was placed under siege and people were asked to stay at home. But there was no trace of the reported ambulance packed with TNT. The district governor ensures now there is no danger. But the Interior Minister warns of “other attacks.” What others?
If this is not a victory for ISIS, it is certainly one for stupidity.
Or, worse, it’s the debut of a new style of government emergency. To save freedom, repeat countless pundits, we must give up some freedom; the first charge of the government is to protect us, and they must shackle us “for our own good.” And, going further, as the French have done, put an asterisk in the constitution, introducing tools to suspend democratic rights, which could soon end up in the less sensitive hands of the conservative Front National party.
If for some trivial incident, perhaps the zeal of a French police officer, a revolt in the banlieues were to break out, we may again see the horrific scenes of October 1961, when dozens of Algerians (perhaps 300) were murdered and thrown into the Seine. There was a war then, too. And attacks against the police. And a state of emergency.
But Daesh is not interested in urban riots. From the brewing frustration, from the banned demonstrations and silenced conspiracies, that’s where it recruits its “martyrs.”