Antiterrorism: One Doesn’t Judge An Enemy, One Fights Him
Mr. Cazeneuve’s summer offering, the new bill aimed at strengthening “provisions relating to the fight against terrorism,” is a timely reminder: if there is one area in which France intends to maintain its position as European leader it’s clearly antiterrorism. This fact doesn’t receive the recognition it calls for, unfortunately, but French antiterrorism is by far the most productive in Europe—that is, if one grants that the “terrorist” is not something existing in a natural state but is actually produced, through an extravagant set of discourses, procedures, and stagings, deploying a police and judicial apparatus whose results are measured, recorded, and rewarded. In this way, according to a recent Europol report, in 2013 France produced twenty times more terrorists than Germany and three times more than the U.K. It must be in order to preserve this favorable position that the legal means are being secured for flushing out “individual terrorist enterprises,” for applying purely administrative measures to shut down sites suspected by the police of “advocating terrorism,” and for prosecuting the hackers of Anonymous under laws pertaining to organized crime. Let it be said in passing: if 2 plus 2 equals four, then those who created sites for supporting us should have seen their sites shut down since we were accused of terrorism – and continue to be; at least if such a provision had been in effect at the time of our arrests. Which would have suited the police very well of course.
But if one really wishes to know what the future holds for us in terms of antiterrorism one’s attention should be focused not on France but on Italy. That is where the tendencies are quietly emerging. Little has been said, on this side of the Alps, about the trial taking place at this very moment in Turin. That’s regrettable, because on its outcome depends nothing less than the possibility, in Europe, of opposing a governmental decision without immediately being treated as a terrorist. In this instance, four young people are accused of damaging a compressor and a generator at a construction site for the Lyon-Turin high-speed line during one of the countless actions supported by the inhabitants of the Susa Valley against this project. In conformity with the practice in vogue, they are accused of “an attack with terrorist aims” and if they are sentenced within that framework they can expect to serve between twenty and thirty years in prison – that is, roughly their current age. It’s alleged that by attacking the construction site of the TAV (Treno ad Alta Velocità, high-speed train) they not only “caused serious damage to the country” but also, according to the accusation, “seriously damaged its image.” Moreover they were attempting thereby to “Compel the public authorities to implement or refrain from implementing an initiative of whatever kind”-- in the case at hand, refrain from constructing a train line in a valley where no one wants it and where there already is one. And this constitutes terrorist behavior. “Compel the public authorities to implement or refrain from implementing an initiative of whatever kind”—a retirement restructuring or a Troika memorandum for example – is that not the aim of every social movement, of every general strike? Yet this is the definition of terrorism which the Commission got adopted at the European level in 2002, on the pretext of 9/11. This came at the right time, moreover, since the definition was used to push the precious Lyon-Turin train-line project; it would be a shame not to have the judicial means appropriate to its devastating designs.
It will be said, “But all that is happening on the other side of the Alps, in a country that never abandoned, when it should have, a certain inquisitorial vigor; how does it pose a threat to us?” As for us, we haven’t forgotten that at a Rome Interpol summit in 2012, the newly appointed Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, advocated more cooperation confronted with “the forms of violence coming from the ultraleft, from anarchist or autonomous movements”, citing “violent groups” gravitating around projects like the Lyon-Turin high-speed line or the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport in France. Hence the maneuver that consisted, following the demonstration of February 22 at Nantes, in trying to reduce a whole determined and unyielding popular movement to a handful of irreducible “Black Bloc” militants, foreigners no doubt, an operation that has continued since with the arrest, one by one, based on photos, of presumed rioters, but sentenced no problem by a diligent justice system – now there is something that doesn’t come out of nowhere. As matter of fact, it’s the rhetoric and the strategy developed by the Italian Ministry of the Interior itself, faced with the demonstration of July 3, 2011 against the TAV precisely, in the Susa Valley, a demonstration like others that had spread well beyond it. All that is so crude, people will say.
No one is fooled. And yet it’s working. A little like the fact of having waited two years for the Tarnac affair to “cool down” and for everyone to forget about it so that, without any formal consideration of exculpatory evidence, we can be sent somewhere before an antiterrorist tribunal between next July 14 and August 15, as if it were normal procedure. And this with the idea, undoubtedly, of sentencing us on a December 31st. All that is crude. No one is fooled. And yet it is working.
Following the demonstration of July 3, 2011, the spokespersons of the NoTAV movement had the cheek to reply to the Italian Interior Ministry: “If that’s the way it is, then we’re all Black Bloc!” To which the answer given via the trial that’s under way is, “Well, in that case you are all terrorists.” There is no juridical definition of terrorism. This is why there are so many definitions throughout the world, a hundred or so in fact. “Terrorist” is not a juridical category; it’s the impossible translation of the political category of the “enemy” into the language of law. The idea of a “criminal law of the enemy” allowing any “extrajudicial” measures to be legally justified when dealing with a terrorist is an absurdity that is full of promise for the future, unfortunately. One doesn’t judge an enemy, one fights him. To treat this or that movement as an enemy, as a terrorist, is basically one of the last properly political decisions that governments are making nowadays, occupied as they are with managing current affairs and with convincing us that there’s no longer any place for a genuine decision.
Offloading about the justice of such a gesture is a bit of cowardice that blends very nicely into the squalid landscape. What is fading away, along with every illusion concerning the nature of justice, are the last illusions about “democracy.” Too bad for it.
By Christophe Becker, Mathieu Burnel, Julien Coupat, Bertrand Deveaud, Manon Glibert, Gabrielle Hallez, Elsa Hauck, Yildune Lévy, Benjamin Rosoux, and Aria Thomas.*
*Those charged with terrorism in the Tarnac affair.
This statement appeared in the French daily, Libération, July 21, 2014.