In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo Attacks, France Must Look Beyond 9/11 Response

02/02/2015 02:41 pm ET | Updated Apr 01, 2015

On January 7 I sat at my work desk as I received news that the headquarters of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo was attacked. I was saddened, but not surprised. I remembered the clippings a Professor first brought in when I studied abroad in Paris as an undergraduate, my first introduction to the publication as a pillar in France and consequently, my interest would grow as the documentary filmed on Charlie Hebdo, C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons, chronicled why the publication went ahead with the satire, despite fear of attacks. I knew the state of freedom of speech in the world today and I admired their courage to create dangerously. The evening of the attacks, I would join in with the public in Paris for a vigil in Republique. President Hollande would issue a moment of silence to France the next day and we would mourn together. However, as much as I feared the consequences the attacks would have on freedom of expression and the chilling effect it might have on artists and journalists, I lived in New York on September 11, 2001, and what I remembered most what how quickly solidarity can turn into ostracization.

Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, a Muslim man in New York was reported as being suspected of making anti-American statements. The reasoning was that the Middle Eastern grocer, had more clerks than he needed in his store. Before long, hundreds of men, most of whom were Muslim, were in jails based on immigration charges for being suspected of being involved in attacks in which they were not.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, one man was sentenced for up to six months in prison for showing support for the attacks and a hundred more were placed under investigation for statements that could support terrorism, trampling upon freedom of speech, the very value the Republic attempted to protect. Mosques were attacked, the reaction from far-right extremists came via social media, hashtagged #killallmuslims, and one of the most powerful names in media, Rupert Murdoch, calling for all Muslims to be held responsible.

The worst action France could take today is follow American policy post 9/11. As France considers how to reconcile civil liberties with security measures and counter-terrorism policies, it cannot fall prey to post 9/11 reactions motivated by fear. Following policies initiated under George W. Bush, with direction from Dick Cheney, the U.S. took the empathy it had from countries worldwide and squandered it with alienating policies, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, abuses by independent contractors, torture in Guantanamo Bay, unlawful surveillance, warrantless wiretapping, government monitoring of financial transactions, and CIA black sites.

On January 11, Valérie Pécresse, politician and former Minister of the Budget said France needed its own version of the US Patriot Act. For France to instill its own version of the Patriot Act would make it an even greater target for attacks and animosity worldwide. As former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin stated in Le Monde "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." Public support of the French government would wane as such policies do not resonate with the public. However, as Human Rights Watch has already extensively catalogued and published in its report, "Preempting Justice: Counterterrorism Laws and Procedures in France" France uses a vaguely defined 'terrorism association offense' to arrest large numbers of people without any substantial evidence. As HRW states, France uses a "preemptive criminal justice approach" to terrorism. In addition, a counterterrorism bill was proposed in July and was adopted by the National Assembly in September and the Senate in November which allows the government to keep French citizens from leaving the country if they are suspected of having the possibility to participate in some kind of terrorist activity once they leave or if they may pose a threat to public safety upon returning from a country where terrorist groups operate. The law has also created a broad as well as vague offense of an "individual terrorist undertaking," making it possible to charge individuals with criminal charges for undefined conduct. Such policies trample upon human rights and create more cause for terrorism than they erase.

"We've been predicting this for a long time," said far-right leader of Le Front National, Marine Le Pen, after the attacks, calling for an anti-muslim and anti-immigrant reaction, arguing "stripping jihadists of their French citizenship is an absolute necessity", though it is clear this could easily mean stripping anyone accused of suspicion of terrorist activity losing their citizenship . The discourse of the Front National has created a self-fulfilling 'clash of civilizations' by creating a false belief that the gamete of terrorism runs from religion to politics and not the other way around. The party has made the violence lie in Islamic teachings and not in gaining political concessions. As Jennifer Fredette writes in her book "Constructing Muslims in France", Muslims in France are socially and politically marginalized, suffering from discrimination in employment, housing, and treatment in school. Integration, a "dual process whereby immigrants embrace and become invested in their new home and are, in turn, accepted as equals by those who were there before them" is blamed on French Muslims failing to welcome France as their home. More often than not, even their Frenchness is called into question, becoming a dialogue of exclusion rather than inclusion.

As I walk the streets of Paris and see 'Je Suis Charlie' signs surround the city I think to my city after 9/11--the 'Never Forget' stickers, the placards by firehouses next to candles, even the bumper stickers. As NYC Mayor deBlasio visited Paris, laying wreaths in front of the Charlie Hebdo offices, making a pilgrimage much like the one made to the World Trade Center Memorial site each day, one hopes Paris can look to New York to avoid become a "post /11, post Charlie Hebdo" world.

What French policymakers and legislators need to be discussing is marginalization of Muslims in France, education, housing, particularly in the suburbs, rental discrimination, and true political participation and repect in the public and private sphere. When an 8 year old boy states that he sympathizes with the Kouachi brothers, France must question where that sentiment stems from. Manuel Valls has stated there has been a geographical, social, and ethnic apartheid imposed in France. In such a state, is it surprising an 8 year would feel resentful? What France must ask now is how legitimate or proportionate it is to respond to such statements by an 8 year old with police action and lawyers. Would requiring students to sing La Marseillaise help them feel included in a country that constantly questions their inclusion?

What Malek Merabet, brother of Ahmed Merabet warned of immediately following the attacks is painting everyone with the same brush. His statement contained the best anti-terrorism policy France can pursue today: not brushing all Muslims with the same brush and creating pockets of frustration and extremism but rather inclusion, equality, and respect.