Blog post

The Same Old War and The New State of Emergency

Christine Delphy 4 April 2016

Image for blog post entitled The Same Old War and The New State of Emergency

Christine Delphy's opening statements from an anti-war meeting held in Paris on January 15th were translated by Tradfem.

(via Wikimedia Commons)

The state of emergency was declared because since November 13, France has been at war, declared French president François Hollande — on November 13 at 23h45.

But France is no more at war than it was the day before, or a year before. It has been bombing Iraq since 2014, and Syria since September 2015.

Since November 13, the idea of war has been used as a way to provoke a general state of panic — a quiet, albeit panicky, panic.

The [Paris] killings stunned the nation, which did not realize it was threatened — it did not even know that France was bombing Iraq and Syria. So it was easily misled by the State, which claimed that France would begin bombing ISIS in retaliation for these killings — because ISIS had attacked us.

But as horrible as ISIS may be, it did not attack France first.

Yet Hollande claims that "Since we are at war, and especially since this is because we were attacked in a ‘cowardly’ and ‘barbaric’ fashion ‘at home’, we will ‘retaliate’." All the terms used to describe the killings and the ensuing war show a double standard. Of course the killings were awful. One is hard-pressed to find killings that aren’t.

Yet apparently they do exist. Those waged by the French Air Force are seemingly not killings, but "collateral damage." Public opinion is taken in by the notion that these are two clearly distinct phenomena.

For we are still steeped in a colonial way of thinking — the idea that we have the right and duty to deliver justice anywhere in the world. And the government is banking on this structural double standard, this outlook.

It has also relied on the fact that, since Vietnam, there are no longer pictures nor stories of the killings caused by our bombing. No individuals under the bombs. No evidence of murders. Not even statistics.

On the other hand, the consequences of the November 13 attacks "at home" were documented extensively — stories of survivors, emergency crews, firefighters, and police officers were sought out, recorded, broadcast continuously on every TV channel, printed in every newspaper. Then, once all the news stories and eyewitness reports dried up, they published the pictures of the dead and their life stories. Two months later, commemorations began.

A whole country was occupied, fascinated and mesmerized by the narrative of this violence, to which heart-rending new details were relentlessly added. There was an overwhelming feeling that we owed something to the dead, those poor dead whose lives we could not save. Like those who witnessed their deaths and wondered aloud why they had been spared, we experienced survivors’ guilt. The spirit of revenge, which requires no invitation, arose. And despite warnings against equating the killers with all Muslims, the spirit of "If it is not you, then it must be your brother” resurfaced, exacerbating an already thriving post-colonial racism.

The government organized all of this very quickly: it took mere minutes to go from "they have declared war on us” to  "the state of emergency" — and only days between the state of emergency decree to its extension by the French Parliament in a near-unanimous vote.

And while the government went full speed ahead, we ourselves moved very slowly. Distraught, stunned, we had become a population with leaden feet. We did not protest the extension of the state of emergency: could it be that challenging its necessity would have shown a lack of compassion, an unacceptable cold-heartedness in this time of mourning?

The lightning speed with which the State implemented changes (changes that it is hard to imagine were conceived so quickly) is in sharp contrast to how slow we were to "take stock" — of the attacks, of the dead, of the state of emergency, of the ban on meetings. All of this ‘taking stock’ came slowly, with difficulty, and when we understood what was being done to us, it was too late to protest.

On November 15, an air strike against ISIS in Syria was announced. Another the next day and another the day after. Then, nothing. Has the Air Force ended its strikes? We have no idea, and no one is protesting this lack of information.

From the onset, on November 13, Hollande announced that the Paris attacks were terrorist assaults by ISIS. The first — and foundational — lie of this whole period was, “We are under attack." The victims are innocent, we are innocent, the country is innocent, the government is innocent.

Who would say otherwise? On Sunday the 15th, three stars of French politics did it on TV: Fillon, Bayrou, and Villepin. They stated as a given that the terrorist attacks were in response to the French bombing of Iraq and Syria. Because yes, it was France that started it — since exactly September 27 in Syria, and Fall 2014 in Iraq. France is bombing these countries as part of a coalition that includes the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and a few other Gulf states.

Yet no one from the government — not the head of State, not the Prime Minister nor any socialist — has acknowledged or implied this.

Of course, we can’t entirely erase the words that a witness to the Bataclan attack heard an assailant shout: "We are here to avenge the people you kill in Syria." But no one — no politician or journalist — comments on this statement. The utterance of a barbarian is not speech, it is an inarticulate sound, the growl of a beast, mere noise.

The press did mention France’s initial bombing of ISIS last September, but only anecdotally. The item did not garner attention because of the discrete way the bombings are presented — but also because we are accustomed to seeing France impose order on its former colonial empire. And since January 2013 France has continued to bomb and commit "targeted killings" in all of the Sahel region, without anyone batting an eyelid.

Why? For what purpose? With what justification? That is the question, not only in relation to the reprisals for the Bataclan attacks, but for all other "opex" (External Operations) carried out since January 2013. This includes Operation Serval 1, then Serval 2 in Mali, later renamed Operation Barkhane to suggest it was a different operation and to hide, as a soldier said, that "we are here for a long time"; Sangaris in the Central African Republic — a "humanitarian" operation supposedly aiming to prevent sectarian massacres but that has prevented nothing; Chammam in Djibouti, which no one has heard of; and France’s entry into the anti-ISIS coalition in 2014, which no one has heard of either, because one must maintain the lie that France is acting alone, like a grown-up.

According to Le Monde journalist David Revault d’Allones, no one understands why Hollande has become such a firebrand — even within his own government. A few facts might explain his transformation.

There are two positive outcomes of these wars: first, the unmarketable Rafale fighter jet, which had been sitting on a shelf for over a decade, has finally been sold. French Minister of War Le Drian has bundled off 25 of them to both Egypt and Qatar, two democratic states. The other outcome is that each time François Hollande strikes, his ratings go up (and then fall again almost as fast). Another factor favouring war, according to the same journalist: Hollande appreciates the fact that when he presses a button, paratroopers hit the target within six hours. This is what made the "taking" of Timbuktu, in 2013, the "most beautiful day of his political career." Yet when he orders the other ministers to "reverse the unemployment curve," things don’t move this quickly; indeed, they don’t move at all.

There is a fourth factor at play, as childish or megalomaniacal as it may seem. Hollande’s Louis-XIV posture of maintaining France’s “rank” as "a world power” is as important as his desire to keep African uranium for French multinational Areva. But as Hubert Védrine commented, "We are a chimerical country, whose claim to global reach is increasingly ridiculous for lack of means." How many deaths will it take before this chimera is abandoned?

This war has produced many other results. First, obviously, are the "terrorist" attacks on French soil. However, "no one expected them" (the government did). All the countries of the world are supposed to accept incursions by Western powers who claim the right to topple the governments of other nations, to bomb their populations and leave them in ruins and civil war, while maintaining that their own country and their own people are hallowed ground, that it is inconceivable for "others"  to dare attack them.

And yet it happens.

The November attacks are the consequence of bombing Syria. Everything has been done to deny what was, on November 15, obvious to Fillon, Bayrou and Villepin, although since then they have fallen silent. This denial has assumed absurd proportions, including the following statement: "The attacks are not because of what we do, but because of what we are." This has earned us a definition of "what we are”: since November, Frenchness is "drinking beer on a terrasse." Drinking beer in a sidewalk café is no longer an action, a behaviour, a pastime or an expense: it is an essence. At long last, we have what we were searching for: a national identity.

In order to continue this war, the State must make it out to be a new war, not a war that has been going on for over a year in Syria, and much longer in the Middle East as a whole.

A more serious war, and therefore a new one. One that changes everything. That legitimizes changing everything. To justify the state of emergency and the programmed demolition of the rule of law. While the state of emergency, in turn, becomes proof of the urgency and need for war.

War and the state of emergency are the two indivisible components of the state which the State has put us in.


Filed under: france, war-on-terror