Commentary — February 17, 2016, 2:30 pm

State of Emergency

“France’s efforts to expand and enshrine the emergency laws in the constitution have created a sense that the legal framework of the French Republic, and all that it stands for, is under threat.”

The lower house of France’s parliament voted overwhelmingly yesterday to extend the state of emergency that has been in effect since the terrorist attacks in Paris last November. The emergency laws, which gave the government broad powers to track and detain suspected terrorists, had already been extended once before, and were due to expire at the end of this month. Yesterday’s 212–31 vote in the National Assembly, following the Senate’s approval last week, means that the laws will remain in effect until at least the end of May.

For months now it has been clear that the state of emergency answered two pressing needs faced by François Hollande, the French president. On the one hand, the legal regime gave the government what prime minister Manuel Valls has described as “modern and effective tools to fight the terrorist threat.” In a speech to the National Assembly earlier this month, Valls claimed that the government’s new powers had allowed it to stop at least one planned attack. On the other hand, however, the laws offered Hollande’s government—which was visibly panicked after a year that began with the terror of the Charlie Hebdo killings and ended with the massacres at the Stade de France, the Bataclan Theater, and five restaurants in Paris’s trendy northeast quarter—a drastic means to try to reassure the public, and itself, that it was still in control.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Hollande’s administration decided to place under indefinite house arrest between 350 and 400 people who had been designated Fiche S, a category used by the French intelligence services to indicate potential threats to state security. Most of the perpetrators of the November massacres had been Fiche S, as had the Charlie Hebdo killers before them. After failing to prevent both groups from staging highly coordinated spectacles of violence, Hollande’s government used the state of emergency to impose house arrests without a warrant or a trial. A person subject to house arrest is required to check in at the local police station three times a day, and is bound by a curfew, usually between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. If the terms of the arrest order are violated, an individual can end up in jail.

When I visited Paris in December, I spoke with Xavier Nogueras, an attorney who represents about a dozen people, including the manager of a halal restaurant and the head of a Muslim aid organization, who have been subject to house arrest. In his office on a posh boulevard in the Latin Quarter, near the Sorbonne, Nogueras showed me the two-page document that the Ministry of the Interior issued to one of his clients. The document informed its recipient that he was henceforth under house arrest. Nogueras read aloud the explanation for the arrest order, which was just a few lines long:

Radicalized individual, whose conduct arouses concern in his professional environment. The indicated person is the manager of a subcontracting company working on behalf of a logistics firm, for which he is making deliveries of hazardous materials to several dozen sensitive sites, including French military sites.

Nogueras told me that the government was not required to seek judicial authorization for its arrest orders in advance. And while an injunction can be contested in court after the fact—according to the New York Times, more than a hundred people have appealed their arrests—the government’s refusal to disclose the evidence it had on his clients, as well as the sources of its information, makes it difficult to mount a defense. What’s more, the circumstances under which someone is designated Fiche S are often arbitrary. It could be enough, Nogueras suggested, for a person to attend a mosque where “two or three years ago, there was a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who was a cousin of Amedy Coulibaly or the Kouachi brothers”—the assailants in the January attacks—to be designated Fiche S. The government keeps the information on file, just in case, but in many instances, he said, “there’s no evidence, nothing.”

“In reality, these individuals are not being accused of anything. They are under suspicion,” Nogueras said. “Because if there is already something to accuse you of, they’re not going to just let you be. They come and get you and throw you in prison. There are legal procedures for that,” he said. The people who had been subject to the emergency house-arrest orders, meanwhile, are mostly people for whom the authorities “don’t have enough to initiate a case.”

At the same time that the French Parliament was debating yesterday’s extension of the state of emergency, it was also considering a tranche of proposed changes to the country’s constitution. One controversial change would allow France to strip the citizenship of a French-born citizen who is convicted of a terrorist crime. Others would allow for longer periods of emergency law, and would lower the legal hurdles for shutting down public spaces and conducting searches of homes and private property. The proposals have caused a number of experts to express concern that elements of an authoritarian police state were threatening the rule of law. Jacques Toubon, who leads an independent government institution charged with defending human rights, told Le Monde that the constitutional-reform projects were “making the exception the rule.

Two weeks ago, Human Rights Watch issued an alarming report that detailed testimonies from eighteen people whose homes had been raided or who had been subject to under house arrest. (The government has carried out more than 3,000 raids since the state of emergency began, most without a warrant; French officials say that they have led to five terrorism-related criminal proceedings.) The report called the government’s behavior “abusive and discriminatory.”

At the end of January, Halim Abdelmalek, a thirty-five-year-old Parisian, became the first person to successfully challenge his arrest order. (Since then, at least forty of the arrest orders have been lifted.) Abdelmalek wrote an op-ed in Le Monde explaining that he had been flagged by intelligence after being photographed, unwittingly, near the home of a Charlie Hebdo journalist. He was there, he said, because his mother lived nearby. “I am simply one of the majority of Muslims who are at peace with their religion and their country. Seeing myself reproached for belonging to a ‘radical Islamist movement’ was even more unbearable than the loss of liberty,” Abdelmalek wrote. “I don’t hold a grudge against anyone, but I’m afraid, because this decision could have made me reexamine my convictions…. I’m afraid for these thousands of young people who are stigmatized by these decisions. I’m afraid for the other people under house arrest. The state must take care not to create enemies within its own camp.”

Many more people who have been affected by the government’s clampdown don’t want to speak publicly in any way. “They don’t want to talk about it because they’re not radicals,” Nogueras told me. “The neighborhood bakery learns that you’re under house arrest because you’re an Islamic radical, your life changes,” he said. “It creates a real tension.” A spokesperson for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France told Le Monde recently that among some Muslims who’d been affected by the measures, “a feeling of retaliation” had been building.

As Scott Sayare wrote in “The Ultimate Terrorist Factory” (Report, January 2016), the French state has been trying to prevent terrorism by using provisions of questionable efficacy for years. With the heightened security apparatus after the November attacks, however, those provisions risk becoming far more widespread. Taken together, the efforts to expand and enshrine the emergency laws in the constitution have created a sense that the legal framework of the French Republic, and all that it stands for, is under threat. “Two hundred and fifty years we’ve been fighting,” Nogueras said, “and now we’re ready to wipe it all out.”

Share
Single Page

More from Elisabeth Zerofsky:

From the October 2017 issue

Everyman’s War

The paramilitary fighters training to keep Russia out of the Baltics

Coda November 18, 2016, 3:35 pm

Le Trump

Marine Le Pen in the age of Trump

From the May 2016 issue

Front Runner

Marine Le Pen’s campaign to make France great again

Get access to 168 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2018

The Tragedy of Ted Cruz

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Rebirth of a Nation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Combustion Engines·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On any given day last summer, the smoke-choked skies over Missoula, Montana, swarmed with an average of twenty-eight helicopters and eighteen fixed-wing craft, a blitz waged against Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge, and ninety-six other wildfires in the Lolo National Forest. On the ground, forty or fifty twenty-person handcrews were deployed, alongside hundreds of fire engines and bulldozers. In the battle against Rice Ridge alone, the Air Force, handcrews, loggers, dozers, parachutists, flacks, forecasters, and cooks amounted to some nine hundred people.

Rice Ridge was what is known as a mega-fire, a recently coined term for blazes that cover more than 100,000 acres. The West has always known forest fires, of course, but for much of the past century, they rarely got any bigger than 10,000 acres. No more. In 1988, a 250,000-acre anomaly, Canyon Creek, burned for months, roaring across a forty-mile stretch of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness in a single night. A few decades on, that anomaly is becoming the norm. Rice Ridge, for its part, swept through 160,000 acres.

At this scale, the firefighting operation is run by an incident management team, a group of about thirty specialists drawn from a mix of state and federal agencies and trained in fields ranging from aviation to weather forecasting and accounting to public information. The management teams are ranked according to experience and ability, from type 3 (the least skilled) to type 1 (the most). The fiercest fires are assigned to type 1s. Teams take the name of their incident commander, the field general, and some of those names become recognizable, even illustrious, in the wildfire-fighting community. One such name is that of Greg Poncin, who is to fire commanders what Wyatt Earp was to federal marshals.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak fire (detail) © Laura Verhaeghe
Article
Rebirth of a Nation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Donald Trump’s presidency signals a profound but inchoate realignment of American politics. On the one hand, his administration may represent the consolidation of minority control by a Republican-dominated Senate under the leadership of a president who came to office after losing the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots. Such an imbalance of power could lead to a second civil war—indeed, the nation’s first and only great fraternal conflagration was sparked off in part for precisely this reason. On the other hand, Trump’s reign may be merely an interregnum, in which the old white power structure of the Republican Party is dying and a new oppositional coalition struggles to be born.

Illustration by Taylor Callery (detail)
Article
Blood Money·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Over the past three years, the city of South Tucson, Arizona, a largely Latino enclave nestled inside metropolitan Tucson, came close to abolishing its fire and police departments. It did sell off the library and cut back fire-truck crews from four to three people—whereupon two thirds of the fire department quit—and slashed the police force to just sixteen employees. “We’re a small city, just one square mile, surrounded by a larger city,” the finance director, Lourdes Aguirre, explained to me. “We have small-town dollars and big-city problems.”

Illustration by John Ritter (detail)
Article
The Tragedy of Ted Cruz·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

When I saw Ted Cruz speak, in early August, it was at Underwood’s Cafeteria in Brownwood. He was on a weeklong swing through rural central Texas, hitting small towns and military bases that ensured him friendly, if not always entirely enthusiastic, crowds. In Brownwood, some in the audience of two hundred were still nibbling on peach cobbler as Cruz began with an anecdote about his win in a charity basketball game against ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. They rewarded him with smug chuckles when he pointed out that “Hollywood celebrities” would be hurting over the defeat “for the next fifty years.” His pitch for votes was still an off-the-rack Tea Party platform, complete with warnings about the menace of creeping progressivism, delivered at a slightly mechanical pace but with lots of punch. The woman next to me remarked, “This is the fire in the gut! Like he had the first time!” referring to Cruz’s successful long-shot run in the 2011 Texas Republican Senate primary. And it’s true—the speech was exactly like one Cruz would have delivered in 2011, right down to one specific detail: he never mentioned Donald Trump by name.

Cruz recited almost verbatim the same things Trump lists as the administration’s accomplishments: the new tax legislation, reduced African-American unemployment, repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court. But, in a mirror image of those in the #Resistance who refuse to ennoble Trump with the title “president,” Cruz only called him that.

Photograph of Ted Cruz © Ben Helton (detail)
Article
Wrong Object·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

H

e is a nondescript man.

I’d never used that adjective about a client. Not until this one. My seventeenth. He’d requested an evening time and came Tuesdays at six-thirty. For months he didn’t tell me what he did.

The first session I said what I often said to begin: How can I help you?

I still think of what I do as a helping profession. And I liked the way the phrase echoed down my years; in my first job I’d been a salesgirl at a department store counter.

I want to work on my marriage, he said. I’m the problem.

His complaint was familiar. But I preferred a self-critical patient to a blamer.

It’s me, he said. My wife is a thoroughly good person.

Yawn, I thought, but said, Tell me more.

I don’t feel what I should for her.

What do you feel?

Photograph © Joseph S. Giacalone (detail)

Chance that a homeless-shelter resident in a major U.S. city holds a full- or part-time job:

1 in 5

Turkey hunting was deemed most dangerous for hunters, though deer hunting is more deadly.

The unresolved midterms; Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III replaced; the debut of the world’s first AI television anchor

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today