France’s war on terrorism and collateral damage

The man who got on a Parisian bus with me Wednesday was an Arab who had not shaven in four days. He had dark olive skin and kinky black hair and was visibly unbalanced: drugs? He sang to a popular tune “I’m going on Jihad. Won’t you come on Jihad with me too?” He risks five years in prison and a 75 thousand euro fine.

In the first six days after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, 54 people were charged with “apology for terrorism” under a tough law voted in the French parliament last November which can jail someone, if they express their “support for terrorism” on the electronic media: FaceBook, Twitter etc., to up to seven years and fine them 100 thousand euros .

France’s “war on terrorism” has begun. The new law allows the “apologists” to be brought before a judge as soon as they are arrested in a process called “comparution immediate”; that is without time to prepare a defense.  It is a law for a time of war.

In Valenciennes, a 34 year-old man under the influence of alcohol who had just had a fender-bender and who, when he was arrested, voiced support for the Jihadi Charlie Hebdo killers, the Kouachi brothers, received a four year sentence.  A 21 year-old man in Nanterre was sentenced to a year in prison for poking fun online at the policeman executed outside Charlie Hebdo, while a 22 year-old in Toulouse got ten months for the same “crime“.  In Nantes, a 14 year-old girl is charged with “apology for Terrorism” and jailed pending trial for threatening to “bring out the kalashnikovs” when controllers asked her for her bus ticket.

The highest profile case is the indictment Wednesday of French comedian and polemicist Dieudonné M’bala M’bala for posting on FaceBook “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly,” after the name of the gunman who killed four people in a Jewish super market and a policewoman in a Paris suburb. Dieudonné’s performances were banned or cancelled by the authorities, under pressure from the government and Jewish lobbies and then, last year, the government simply banned him from the stage altogether. His denunciation of Zionism and what he sees as the over-bearing Jewish influence in French society is often border-line. The last straw was when he commented that when he heard the pro-Israeli Jewish commentator, Patrick Cohen, speak “I tell myself, the gas chambers … too bad.

Teachers in schools throughout France are reporting Muslim students have radicalized their positions since last week, voicing support for the murderers, writing pro-Jihad graffiti and threatening teachers, such as one student who advised an instructor to convert to Islam “for your own good!

The more France fights a “war for freedom of speech”, the more it seems they are jailing and radicalizing Muslim youth for expressing their opinions in favor of “terrorisme”, against the status quo and against the “valeurs de la République.” Grade school children were heard asking “are you for the terrorists or the French.” These pupils are born in France and possess French citizenship. Yet their question shows that, even at the age of seven, they feel foreign in their country.

The Muslim youth in France who suffer from daily discrimination and humiliation don’t see senselessness in the Jihadi violence. The “valeurs de la République” for them is a blocked horizon, unemployment three times the national average, poverty, faceless housing projects and a general sentiment of being excluded from a promised dream.  They find their identity in that gray area that is their exclusion.

It is true that most of the youth who go to Jihad are losers and scum; spineless cowards unable to cope with the difficulties of life, nor able to struggle for their due and of limited intelligence. We are far from the days when trade unions and left leaning parties organized the immigrants and led the battles for their rights.  The days when the labor and social movements actually won some victories.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1789 says “Every citizen has the right to speak, write and print freely.” But the Constitution of the Vème République stipulates “except to respond to abuse of this freedom in the cases determined by the law.

It does not help that the former director of Charlie Hebdo, Philippe Val, is known for his pro-zionist views and his editorial line which concentrates on rediculizing Islam and systematically confusing it with Jihad.  He need not worry about being charged with “inciting to hate“; another French crime of expression.  After all, his insults are “la humour satirique” and thus protected as Freedom of Speech.  Dieudonné, of course, is a “rabid anti-Semite.”  And there can be no humor in that.

The French establishment seems to believe by stifling the “free expression” which goes against “les valeurs de la République,” they will be defending Liberty. And they may be right if you define ‘Liberty’ as right of the ‘haves’ to live comfortably in an unequal society free of any threat from the ‘have nots,’ even  if their revolt is self-defeating, blind violence fueled by oscurantism. This is the real sense of the war France is fighting.

Like all of today’s wars, there is collateral damage. Obviously, the collateral damage in France is the Muslim youth parked in the housing projects known as les cites: a European form of Bantustan.  These laws “for a time of war” are to be used against them. And if the double standards continue on who has Freedom of Expression and who has not, and the violence of the state is used to enforce it, the result will be the same as it is everywhere from Iraq to the West Bank.