Predictably, the attack on the Paris based magazine Charlie Hebdo last week has produced a public outcry for tightening security against terrorism in the nation. Some are calling for draconian measures to rein in terrorist activity, but the type of laws which followed the attacks of 9/11 in the US are not likely forthcoming.
Though the country has seen massive manhunts and the arrest of dozens of suspects, it appears that the French people’s love of civil liberty will derail efforts to enact the US Patriot Act style legislation championed by former prime minister Nicolas Sarkozy.
The feeling here is that anti-terrorist laws are already robust – indeed they have been studied with a view toward implementation by a number of other countries including the US. And in fact, in order to roundup possible perpetrators of the recent carnage, authorities have relied on laws and methods that heretofore would have been considered unlikely regarding free speech. Some people have been detained for making remarks which support or justify terrorism.
The former French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, warned against such actions, or the implementation of stricter laws,
‘The spiral of suspicion created in the United States by the Patriot Act and the enduring legitimization of torture or illegal detention has today caused that country to lose its moral compass.”
He is joined on the right by another former prime minister, Francois Fillon, in opposition to fundamental changes in the law.
Abuses of the Patriot Act are seen to foment terrorist activity and aid in the recruitment of jihadists, and are abhorred by more than 80 percent of French citizens already unenamored with US surveillance practices. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that the results of US legislation have proven inconclusive, and in fact the Patriot Act is still causing ripples in the US a decade after being enacted.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in US Congress, which is tasked with the potential re-authorization of the law. The recent release of information detailing torture tactics used by US agencies against suspected terrorists has invigorated the debate.
It should be pointed out that at the very least there is talk of a debate over new European laws to combat terrorism. This is in stark contrast to the political climate in the US after 9/11, and the fear and hysteria which spawned the Patriot Act and its subsequent abuses. The details of any new French legislation are unclear, but discussion has focused on increased Internet surveillance and granting new authority to remove content. Cooler heads, though, are urging restraint rather than a rush to restrict freedom.
France has bolstered its terrorism laws several times since 2001, and has been viewed by the US as a strong partner in the war on terrorism. The laws restricting speech in support of terrorism are only one such example of sterner measures, and their trial procedures have often seemed to already favor prosecutors over defendants. Therefore, despite the recent terrorist attacks, Frenchmen seem satisfied with the status quo and reluctant to adapt draconian new laws. It remains to be seen if this is the right path.