By Rayan Freschi

Political language is too often seen as a matter of bluster or rhetoric alone: empty threats or promises that are frequently received with suspicion and derision. . But political rhetoric coupled with power can just as easily become political fact – particularly in times of upheaval, when leaders find themselves at a crossroads.

In fact the analysis of the language used by rulers reflects the nature and degree of their feelings, knowledge and intentions. In other words, the nature of their language indicates the nature of their policies. When George W. Bush gave birth to the War on Terror with the infamous dictum that one was either “with us or against us”, it was clear, because of the radical language he used, the future conflict would be ruthless. It was, and still is. When he described the Guantanamo detainees as being “the worst of the worst” it was also clear their treatment would be extremely harsh and punitive.

Emmanuel Macron found himself at a crossroads on the 18th of October 2020, right after the murder of Samuel Paty. Here’s how he expressed himself during the Council of Defense meeting which followed the events :

Fear must change sides. I want Islamists to feel in danger at any time of the day or night. The enemy is clearly identified. He wants our death. We shall then fight to the death.

Islamists” is in effect the State’s wording for “practising Muslims”, or “Muslims who do not surrender to our power and beliefs”, and directly comes from their deep Orientalist approach to Islâm and its worshippers.

He continued by announcing that foreigners on file for alleged ‘radicalisation’ would be deported to their native countries. The former Home Secretary, Christophe Castaner, explained on the 8th of October 2019 before a parliamentary commission that “radicalisation” is to be established through a series of so called “weak signals”, which exclusively describe Islamic practices. By applying their reasoning, we understand and conclude the individuals on file are Muslims. Macron continued saying that for the ones who could not be deported, “the wait will be worth it”… One of his counsellors suggested removal order measures – effectively internment –  for this individuals, a suggestion followed by this brief and chilling dialogue with another counsellor:

“A Guantanamo!”

“No, not a Guantanamo. In Guantanamo, torture took place…”

When policy makers do not regard detention without charge or trial as an act of torture, and see it as a concrete solution, we should be very alarmed. Yet, that discussion was not received with shock and criticism. It may actually have initiated a new securitarian and Islamophobic legal framework in France.


A legitimate concern

Less than a month after these discussions took place Guillaume Peltier, the second in command of the right wing Les Républicains party and member of the Parliament, proposed a Bill aiming at detaining French citizens for alleged ‘radicalisation’ in administrative detention centers. The reform would give a new and discretionary power to the Home Secretary : he could choose to detain any of the 22, 000 citizens on file for ‘radicalisation’, for a period of time subject to potentially infinite renewal.

The jurisdiction of appeal would be administrative: under French Law the Police and the Military cannot be compelled to unveil the files they collected (they almost systematically refuse when asked to do so before a court), it would then be extremely difficult for the detainees to discuss suspicions (not even charges!). Hence, their chances of being released would be very slim, and those held in these centres would be effectively shooting in the dark to prove their innocence.

The Bill is yet to be examined by a permanent parliamentary commission and, if included in the Parliament agenda, will be discussed and submitted to vote. Even though the fate of the proposal is at this point unclear, we should not nurture blind optimism.

The Bill is part of the political program of Les Républicains proposed and published by Guillaume Peltier the 18th of April. We have seen in the recent past how Bills coming from this party are absorbed by the government or the majority coalition presided over by Macron’s party. The Home Secretary Gérald Darmanin is himself an ex-member of Les Républicains.
Their influence is well-established and is nothing but a reflection of the overall ideological consensus regarding the way Muslims should be governed: through severe policing and a securitisation process with no clear limit.

The future political agenda does not encourage optimism : next September will see the start of the trial of the Bataclan attacks of 2015.
Already deemed the “Trial of the Century”, it will last for 6 months at minimum, ending in February or March 2022 – at the very height of a Presidential campaign where immigration and security ( read: Islâm and Muslims), will play a role as central as matters like the economy.

The question of the 22,000 radicalisation files will likely come up again, and the Bill may be discussed in Parliament, or inserted into Macron’s future political program if reelected.


The inner dangers of a narrative based on protection and trust

Quite shockingly, the idea of detaining Muslims without  charge nor trial, as long as “torture” is avoided, does not remind them of the horrendous Guantanamo camp. They regard torture through a very superficial lens, identifying water-boarding or other spectacular acts of physical violence as the only forms of torture.

Their superficial and partial knowledge does not allow them to understand that the prerequisite of Guantanamo – detaining people without charging them of any crime – is in itself incredibly abusive and a very concrete infringement of the Rule of Law. Despite the international outrage over Guantanamo, it seems French governance is ready to follow similar steps that the US adopted in response to the 9/11 attacks.

In The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, an allegory of the rise of Hitler written by Bertolt Brecht, Ui presents himself to the people as the one able to protect them against abuses he is the source of, and obtains their forced full trust :

Who is on my side ? (…) the one who is not with me is against me

It is not Macron who is Ui, but rather France as a system of governance. France fosters and has fostered for decades disenfranchisement, even despair, in Muslim hearts.

At the same time, the State presents itself as a form of protection against barbaric violence. Civil society, full of fear, ignorance and Islamophobic resentment, only demands to be protected itself and forcefully trusts its governors on this issue, turning an almost blind eye to  the means of such protection. Because of the need to ‘protect’, the State demands and obtains full trust, allowing it to adopt laws or policies severely curtailing freedoms.

These reforms lead to more injustice and the probability of violence rises yet again, creating a vicious circle. That circle is part of the structure of the War on Terror. Establishing detention centers to imprison innocent French Muslims would be the natural progression of this loop.

The ones seeing the trick, trying to promote real and concrete solutions to this cycle of violence are treated like dangerous heretics, just like the ones who refused to trust Arturo Ui ended up being killed. The fate of French Muslim NGOs, just like the demand of complete allegiance of French Muslims through the Anti-Separatism Bill and the Imam’s Charter, clearly prove this point.


The necessity of uncorrupted knowledge, philosophical renewal and solidarity

In his Discourse on Colonialism, Aimé Césaire writes :

Whether one likes it or not, at the end of the blind alley that is Europe, I mean the Europe of Adenauer, Schuman, Bidault, and a few others, there is Hitler. At the end of capitalism, which is eager to outlive its day, there is Hitler.
At the end of formal humanism and philosophic renunciation, there is Hitler.

Hitler here, just like Ui in Brecht work, is not necessarily the model of a specific political personality, but the spectre of a system whose approach is based on a corrupted knowledge and a weak philosophy. Orientalism, which remains the lens Europeans use when approaching Islâm and Muslims, and secularisation, which caused the deification of western man and regards revealed religion as obsolete – demanding it to modernize (betray) its foundations – lead Europe to portray Muslims as dangerous barbarians unworthy of freedom and equality.

These two pillars are what Césaire identifies as “formal humanism and philosophic renunciation” and make the dehumanisation of Muslims possible and pervasive, strengthening the War on Terror narrative. Hence, Muslims must be submitted to a different treatment, endlessly working to prove their humanity, rolling a boulder up a hill just to see it roll down even deeper every time it nears the top.

A reform of European and French philosophy and an unbiased study of others cultures and beliefs can avoid these kinds of abuses of becoming reality and bear the seed of a fairer society.

Without these and the overall support of the Muslim community as well as the support of any individual who firmly believes in the rule of Law,  French Muslims may be doomed to the same fate as European Jews : persecution, which makes possible the deprivation of any fundamental right, including the one not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.

Our awareness and our solidarity can still prevent the mistakes of the past from repeating themselves.

Image courtesy of Flickr/graham chandler

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)