By Dave Sewell in Paris
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Trapped in emergency—repression and defiance on the streets of France

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Issue 2482
Armed soldiers patrol and stand outside the Grand Mosque in Paris, France
Armed soldiers patrol and stand outside the Grand Mosque in Paris, France (Pic: PA)

The cops came to Sarah’s apartment in Paris in the early hours four days after terror attacks shook the city last month.

“They dragged me out of bed and wouldn’t let me cover myself,” she told Socialist Worker. “When I put my glasses on they tore them from my face.

“My hand was trembling because of what was happening, and an officer just yelled at me to keep it still.”

Something terrifying is happening to Muslims in France. President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency following the attacks.

The first 12 days saw over 1,600 raids with almost 300 people placed under a form of house arrest.

Sarah said the cops “asked us questions like, ‘Where were you at the time of the attacks?’.”

They doled out Islamophobic insults and mocked the way she and her family dressed.

“My husband was told, ‘With that beard you shouldn’t be in France, you should go back to your own country’,” she said. “But he is French.”

Ali’s home was raided by gendarmes, a branch of the French armed forces, in the middle of the night last week.

“They woke up my children—my daughter is scared to go to bed now,” he said. “They handcuffed me in front of them while I was still undressed.”

The next day Ali was ordered to go to the gendarmerie and told he would be “confined to residence”.

He isn’t allowed to leave his village and must go to the gendarmerie four times a day.

“In my village there is nothing,” he said. “I no longer work because of illness, but I’m not allowed to go to get the care I need without special authorisation.

“I’m not allowed to take my children to school. And I have to live like this for at least three months.”


Cops are now free to raid whoever they see fit—overwhelmingly Muslims. According to Le Monde newspaper, 90 percent of the raids ended with no arrests.

Yassir Louati from the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) told Socialist Worker, “The raids have terrorised families.

“We’ve had fathers on the phone crying.

“One woman was raided in a state of undress—she asked to put her headscarf on and was not allowed.”

Police on the streets of Paris

Police on the streets of Paris (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Yassir said mosques had been raided and “trashed”. “At Aubervilliers they broke down doors, tore open walls and ceilings, threw books on the floor,” he said.

“At Mureaux they brought dogs into the mosque. Mosques are under surveillance and all the sermons are recorded.”

People have been encouraged to report “suspicious behaviour” to the authorities.

Ali said, “All this happened because my neighbours told the police I’d been praising the terrorists. I never did!

“If I had I’d stand over it. I’d ask why Hollande isn’t confined to house arrest after he said France’s strategy in Syria was to bring the Free Syrian Army closer to the ‘presentable Islamists’.

“But I never said it. The attacks broke my heart. It could easily have been me or my family killed. Why should we be put on the spot? It’s not like that happens to Christians when a priest abuses children.”

Sarah said the raid on her home targeted her husband “because he was supposedly being ‘radicalised’—which he isn’t”.

As Ali explained, “If your neighbour doesn’t like you they can tell the police you support terrorists. There are people in the village who don’t like Arabs. They failed to drive me out, so now they’ve denounced me to the police.”

Talk of denouncing people has a particular resonance in France.

It harks back to the Nazi occupation of the country during the Second World War and France’s Vichy regime that collaborated with it.

Yassir said, “A lot of the raids come from denunciations. It’s created a climate of fear. And now the bosses’ federation Medef has called on all employers to denounce their ‘radical’ employees.”

Press articles about “radicalisation” at work have been illustrated with pictures of women workers in hijabs.

Others about “radical Islam” have been illustrated with Muslims at prayer.

David shaved his beard off and was reported for it.

He was confined to residence and has to travel five kilometres to the police station four times a day to sign in.

David is blind, but was offered no support from the state in making the trip.

Idriss Sihamedi is director of BarakaCity, a humanitarian charity that publicised David’s case. “David’s been put in a dangerous situation,” Idriss told Socialist Worker.

“It’s scandalous what Muslim people are going through. It’s the kind of thing that happens in dictatorships.”

BarakaCity has also been raided, allegedly to look for drugs and guns. None were found.

Yassir said this is typical. As he put it, “The authorities are using the state of emergency to settle scores against people they had a beef with.”

Widad and her family lived in the building in Saint Denis, to the north of Paris, where cops laid siege to the terrorists.

They fired 5,000 bullets over the course of one night. Families there were given no warning.

“I didn’t know what was happening,” she told Socialist Worker. “It was a horrible, horrible night. The bombardment started as soon as we got in bed. We didn’t dare look.

“We ended up hiding in the bathroom, my children on the floor under a blanket.”

Residents had police kick in their doors to fire through their windows. Some were taken to detention centres and now face deportation.

After questioning by the police, families from the building were taken to a gym where they would live for over a week.

A broken window after the raid in Saint Denis

A broken window after the raid in Saint Denis (Pic: Socialist Worker)

The state avoided treating the residents as victims of terrorism, with the support that status brings. “There was no counselling offered for the children,” said Widad. “It’s hard to explain to them what’s happened.”

While she was talking outside her children’s school, fighter planes flew low and loud over the town. Moments later mounted police forced parents and children to the side so they could squeeze past the school entrance, visibly terrifying a number of children.

“It’s not normal that they can do things like this,” said Widad. “My son’s still in shock, the teacher says he can’t concentrate in school now when he was such a hard worker before.

“We’ve now been granted provisional temporary accommodation, but we don’t know what will happen next, where we will end up and when.

“And we’re only talking about 29 families—you can’t tell me there aren’t 29 homes.”

The residents are organising together to make sure none of them are left behind. Widad described them as “like a big family”.

“People from all different nationalities and religions lived together as friends, looking out for each other,” she said.

“Since the siege we’ve had a lot of support from the community. It’s the state that’s let us down.”

The repression from the top has given confidence to racists on the streets.

One vandalised mosque was sprayed with pictures of pigs and the words “Islam out of Europe”.

Ali is furious with Hollande’s party, the Labour-type Socialists. “When I was young, I was an idealist,” he said. “I thought the Socialist Party was the party that would help people.

“I’ve been so disappointed. Now they want to change the constitution to put electronic collars on us like dogs—when we haven’t done anything.

“The law is being changed to suit the far right, but it’s the left doing it.”

Ali said the state of emergency is useful for those at the top. “Look at the economic situation,” he said. “People need to eat, work and go on holiday.

“The state can’t provide that— instead it says, look there are terrorists everywhere.

“Then all talk of job s or wages is forgotten.”

Yassir added, “Nothing is done about the real issues—unemployment, police brutality, ghettoisation.

“And they have targeted us again. It means that as well as being afraid of the terrorists, you become afraid of the government.”

The latest crackdown is part of a long history of French state racism.

“When my parents’ generation came they were called ‘filthy Arabs’,” said Ali. “Later that became ‘those immigrants’.

“Now we’re all ‘fundamentalist Muslims’.

“We could all have been Buddhists or Jews—it wouldn’t change the fact that France has never accepted Arabs.”

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