On the morning of November 11, 150 police officers, most of which belonged to the anti-terrorist brigades, surrounded a village of 350 inhabitants on the Millevaches plateau, before raiding a farm in order to arrest nine young people (who ran the local grocery store and tried to revive the cultural life of the village). Four days later, these nine people were sent before an anti-terrorist judge and "accused of criminal conspiracy with terrorist intentions." The newspapers reported that the Ministry of the Interior and the Secretary of State "had congratulated local and state police for their diligence." Everything is in order, or so it would appear. But let's try to examine the facts a little more closely and grasp the reasons and the results of this "diligence."
First the reasons: the young people under investigation "were tracked by the police because they belonged to the ultra-left and the anarcho autonomous milieu." As the entourage of the Ministry of the Interior specifies, "their discourse is very radical and they have links with foreign groups." But there is more: certain of the suspects "participate regularly in political demonstrations," and, for example, "in protests against the Fichier Edvige (Exploitation Documentaire et Valorisation de l'Information Générale) and against the intensification of laws restricting immigration." So political activism (this is the only possible meaning of linguistic monstrosities such as "anarcho autonomous milieu") or the active exercise of political freedoms, and employing a radical discourse are therefore sufficient reasons to call in the anti-terrorist division of the police (SDAT) and the central intelligence office of the Interior (DCRI). But anyone possessing a minimum of political conscience could not help sharing the concerns of these young people when faced with the degradations of democracy entailed by the Fichier Edvige, biometrical technologies and the hardening of immigration laws.
As for the results, one might expect that investigators found weapons, explosives and Molotov cocktails on the farm in Millevaches. Far from it. SDAT officers discovered "documents containing detailed information on railway transportation, including exact arrival and departure times of trains." In plain French: an SNCF train schedule. But they also confiscated "climbing gear." In simple French: a ladder, such as one might find in any country house.
Now let's turn our attention to the suspects and, above all, to the presumed head of this terrorist gang, "a 33 year old leader from a well-off Parisian background, living off an allowance from his parents." This is Julien Coupat, a young philosopher who (with some friends) formerly published Tiqqun, a journal whose political analyses - while no doubt debatable - count among the most intelligent of our time. I knew Julien Coupat during that period and, from an intellectual point of view, I continue to hold him in high esteem.
Let's move on and examine the only concrete fact in this whole story. The suspects' activities are supposedly connected with criminal acts against the SNCF that on November 8 caused delays of certain TGV trains on the Paris-Lille line. The devices in question, if we are to believe the declarations of the police and the SNCF agents themselves, can in no way cause harm to people: they can, in the worst case, hinder communications between trains causing delays. In Italy, trains are often late, but so far no one has dreamed of accusing the national railway of terrorism. It's a case of minor offences, even if we don't condone them. On November 13, a police report prudently affirmed that there are perhaps "perpetrators among those in custody, but it is not possible to attribute a criminal act to any one of them."
The only possible conclusion to this shadowy affair is that those engaged in activism against the (in any case debatable) way social and economic problems are managed today are considered ipso facto as potential terrorists, when not even one act can justify this accusation. We must have the courage to say with clarity that today, numerous European countries (in particular France and Italy), have introduced laws and police measures that we would previously have judged barbaric and anti-democratic, and that these are no less extreme than those put into effect in Italy under fascism. One such measure authorizes the detention for ninety-six hours of a group of young - perhaps careless - people, to whom "it is not possible to attribute a criminal act." Another, equally serious, is the adoption of laws that criminalize association, the formulations of which are left intentionally vague and that allow the classification of political acts as having terrorist "intentions" or "inclinations," acts that until now were never in themselves considered terrorist.
First published in: Libération, November 19, 2008, translation courtesy of Semiotext(e).
below please find a petition written by the publisher Eric Hazan, which can be signed (name, occupation, city) and returned to: email@example.com
A recent operation by the French police, intensively covered by the French and to some extent international media, ended in the arrest and indictment of nine people under anti-terrorist laws. The nature of this operation has already undergone a change: after the revelation of inconsistency in the accusation of sabotaging French railway lines, the affair took a manifestly political turn. According to the public prosecutor: “the goal of their activity is to attack the institutions of the state, and to upset by violence – I emphasize violence, and not contestation which is permitted – the political, economic and social order.”
The target of this operation is larger than the group of people who have been charged, against which there exists no material evidence, nor anything precise they can be accused of. The charge of “criminal association for the purposes of terrorist activity” is exceptionally vague: what constitutes “association”, and how are we to understand the reference to “purposes” other than as a criminalization of intention? As for the qualification “terrorist”, the enforced definition is so broad that it could apply to practically anything – and to possess such and such a text or to go to such and such demonstration is enough to fall under this exceptional legislation.
The individuals who have been charged were not chosen at random, but because they lead a political existence. They have participated in demonstrations, most recently against the less than honorable European summit on immigration in Vichy. They think, they read books, they live together in a remote village. There has been talk of clandestinity: they have opened a grocery store, everyone knows them in the region, where a support committee has been organized against their arrest. What they are looking for is neither anonymity nor refuge, but rather the contrary: another relation than the anonymous one of the metropolis. In the end, the absence of evidence itself becomes evidence against them: the refusal of those who have been charged to give evidence against one another during their detention is presented as a new indication of their terrorism.
In reality, this whole affair is a test for us. To what degree are we going to accept that anti-terrorism permits anyone to be arrested at any time? Where are we to place the limit of freedom of expression? Are emergency laws adopted under the pretext of terrorism and security compatible with democracy in the long term? Are we ready to let the police and the courts perform an about-turn in the direction of a new order? It is for us to respond to these questions, and first by demanding the end of these investigations and the immediate release of these nine people whose indictment is meant as an example for us all.