Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Uses of Terror: The Paris Attacks and the Surveillance State.

The organised and state sanctified rally in Paris, to be attended by David Cameron and President Hollande and dedicated to showing defence of the principles of free speech and a free media, has to raise doubts as to why it is the state posing as the guarantor of liberties.

Hollande's government decided it would fund the printing of further editions of Charlie Hebdo. Fleur Pellerin promised €1m (£780,000) to the paper to guarantee its survival as a sort of 'gesture' in defiance of Al Qaida terrorism and yet why this should be so vital to free speech is not clear.

The Hebdo cartoonists were in the radical French anti-clerical tradition of detesting all religions as based on sexual repression and power. Their aim was to cause scandal and outrage and the creation of new situations. They ultimately succeeded but not exactly in ways they could have wanted.

The bizarre spectacle of rebranding the cartoonists as 'martyrs for free speech' has much to do with Hollande's attempt to co-opt a defence of democracy and freedom into support for the 'war' against Al Qaida in Mali and Somalia, as he was apt to make it clear in his press conference: France, was indeed, 'at war'.

The danger of ratcheting up this rhetoric is that is dignifies what was clearly a criminal massacre by three deracinated thugs into a formal war in precisely just the way Al Qaida want to portray it. The headlines about 'the French 9/11' made it clear this was part of a coordinated threat to western civilisation.

Such a propaganda narrative is precisely that which ought to be challenged by a free press and not recycled as if it were fact. As much as an assault on journalists, the Hebdo attack was intended as part of a strategy of provoking the idea of an essential 'clash of civilisations'.

The mundane reality is that one of the Koauchi brothers had been jailed for two years for being involved in a terror network in 2003. If France were more serious about its security it would either keep such dangerous plotters in prison longer or be able to keep tabs on them when they arrive back in France

It follows that if the French state cannot do that then it would be better to invest more in conventional policing instead of arrogating to itself greater surveillance powers to watch over society. The agenda could be that the state accepts the need to increase its power as a price for continuing its foreign policy.

Military intervention in the Maghreb and sub Saharan Africa through to the Middle East using drones or air power is likely to involve potentially creating resentment abroad and at home. The surveillance state is one means to advance strategic resource interests while protecting against 'blowback'.

Where journalists and fact finders have tried to investigate the growth of this new surveillance state they have themselves been subjected to criminal investigation. It seems that freedom of speech and the press could, in fact, in future be constrained by this and the bigged up spectre of Al Qaida terror

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