etat d’urgence


This piece can only suggest fragmentary experiences etat d’urgence following the terrorist attacks in Paris. It is not at all representative and can’t address, in any way that is adequate, the violence suffered by those thousands who have had their houses raided, been detained, brutalised or arrested by the police since the 13th November. Here are some cursory notes: 

At 1am on the night of les attentats, as dead were still being counted, President Hollande was already announcing his response to the France’s biggest terrorist attack in history. He declared a state of emergency, which would include: the mobilisation of all possible forces in order to ‘neutralise’ terrorists and guarantee the security of the areas that could continue to be under threat, the banning of all protest and public assembly and the closing of EU borders.

Over the next few days this materialised in the form of a hugely increased military presence on the streets of Paris and its suburbs, bag searches at every door to every mall or public library, and the excuse for police to stop, search and raid, without restraint. The spectacle of armed guards standing listlessly on every street corner instils banal fear. The military have been a visible presence on the streets in Paris since the 90s, but their numbers were increased after the Charlie Hebdo shootings earlier in 2015. The 3000 perquisitions carried out since November 13th have affected Muslims, NGOs, human rights organisations, squatters, climate activists, and, in December, police raided two Roma families. The police have embraced and internalised free reign proudly, whilst carrying out raids in the suburbs, one said “Haven’t you heard? This is the state of emergency, we can do whatever we want”.

The protest ban seemed of course convenient ahead of the climate conference cop21 and what were expected to be the most disruptive summit protests since Copenhagen cop20. The president’s ‘decision’ to close the EU borders, only obscured the fact that they were already closed starting from Friday the 13th in order to control and apprehend activists coming for the cop21 protests. Many environmental activists were then detained as threats to the state of emergency, arrested on suspicion of the intention to protest. His reiteration of this ‘decision’ in direct response to the attentats was consistent with his responses to the attacks in general, which have imitated and contributed to the racist rhetoric which developed in the press in the following days and continues to be dominant: of fortress Europe’s ‘leaky’ borders and the construction of the migrant as a terrorist threat. (This attitude was evident immediately in the press’s obsession with details relating to one of the terrorists involved, who had ‘got through’ on a Syrian refugee status through Greece). Hollande’s speech only exhibited the uneasiness in making a border, or making a distinction, an inside and an outside: 

We must make sure that no one can return to carry out such acts, and at the same time that those who have carried out these crimes are apprehended before they leave the country.

On Monday, Hollande went on to announce: La France est en guerre. As JudithButler wrote, this performed a new appropriated power for Hollande: ‘buffoon that he is, he is acting as the head of the army now. The state/army distinction dissolves in the light of the state of emergency’. Again, Hollande’s speech was full of conflations and elisions: the claim that the attacks are ‘acts of war’ is made unstable by the refusal to recognise ISIS as a state. A war with who? The question turns around again as Hollande mystifies and euphamises wildly, calling this an ‘attack on our country, its values, its youth, its way of life’. Hollande’s makes two moves to consolidate state power: by banning protest and closing borders he suggests that any conflict with the state (the state of emergency) will be transgressive and therefore terrorist. Terrorism is generalised into law breaking: true enough, the next day, a friend jumping the Paris metro noticed that the guard no longer sat disinterestedly in his box. Secondly, by speaking of an attack on culture, Hollande insists on identification with mainstream culture, as the senseless slogan Je suis en terrasse suggests. It echoes the response to the Charlie Hebdo protests, which elicited a clear identification with a symbol of racist satire, crowds of people literally declaring themselves becoming Charlie. Those who don’t are pushed out into the suburbs. And so it followed, that millions of people worldwide pledged their allegiance to France, with all its history of colonial massacre and police repression. This demand on an absolute adherence to state measures is echoed in the next few weeks as no one in the British media will report on the consequences of the state of emergency. 

The next days we are looking out for fascism. The air of keeping calm and carrying on is nauseating: a friend remarks that the queue for the bakery has never seemed so absurd. On Sunday the 15th donkeys, a man walks a kitten, and much later in the afternoon, a woman walks a large german rabbit. The protest­ ban has meant that a chauvinistic reaction to the attacks has been arguably less visible than in the case of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo earlier in the year. Instead, a vigil has been kept by the sites in Paris, and groups are informally permitted to gather by Republique in memory of those killed.

Mass displays of racism and nationalism have so far not occurred, though a memorial march in Lille was joined by fascists soon after the attacks and there have been hate crimes and attacks on mosques in the North. The rightist magazine Le Point gets away with a headline WAR WITH BARBARIANS. The Catholic, privately educated, homophobic, racist children I look after jump around all over the sofa screaming “BLEU BLANC ROUGE”, ask me if I am a rightist or a leftist, tell me that a rightist political leaning is bred into the ovaries of the mother. I don’t complain to the parents because I’m afraid of what I will find out. In this quartier, the 16th election posters that get desecrated are the socialist party ones. That week, the Front National very nearly win many regions in the elections, but instead Sarkozy’s right force the left to step down and everyone heaves a sigh of relief.

The protest ban also means that a migrant solidarity demonstration planned long before the attacks, on the 21st November, was forbidden and heavily policed. Given the anti­migrant and racist rhetoric building in the mainstream media it was important to break the ban in this case. The sans papiers presence at this demonstration was negligent due to the increased chance of harassment and of stop and search by police. Although the march only ran from Bastille to Republique it was lined on each side by hundreds of cops and it was tear-­gassed. No arrests were made at the time but the following day it was reported in Liberation that the names of 58 people had been passed on to the prosecutor in relation to the protest. These people were contacted the following day and ordered to report themselves to the police. It’s not clear how the were amassed, but it must have been a combination of photo­ evidence and police intelligence gathered beforehand, as some of those contacted the following day were not even present at the protest. The orders were both by post and by police turning up at people’s doors. The state of emergency and the current climate in France has consequences beyond public demonstration, and has affected organisation around migrant solidarity. Those working in solidarity with migrants or with those without papers report that since the attacks it has been more difficult to gather and work together, people have been intimidated into hiding around Paris, and have also been the victims of police harassment and intimidation.

*The ‘etat d’urgence’ was created in 1955 in response to unrest in Algeria and revived for the revolution that year. It was again invoked in 1961 during the Generals Putsch and finally in New Caledonia in 1984. 2005 was the first time it these powers were invoked on the mainland against the banlieue riots and against a civil rather than an armed insurrectionist movement. The 2015 use of it so far will last 3 months and takes a new form.


Rona L


This article was originally published on January 16th
in ‘issue zero’ of the newly launched print edition of the International Times.
A limited number of copies can be bought from artist Darren Cullen’s online store here:



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