International Boulevard

Across France, a Witch Hunt Among the Children

After the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, the French justice system rounded them up by the dozens across the country: drunkards and madmen and children, all charged with a new and strange crime, ‘justifying’ an act of terrorism. From Mediapart and Rue89, articles and testimonials from a peculiar new front in the war on terror, a moment of collective hysteria, a crackdown on free expression in the name of the latest martyrs in the cause of free expression.

In Saudi Arabia, they sentence bloggers to a thousand lashes and ten years in prison for “insulting Islam.” In France under the Socialists, they arrest children and throw them in jail, charging them with ‘advocating terrorism.’

Since the January 7th attacks, a wind of collective madness has been blowing through France. The Ministry of Injustice says it is pursuing more than 100 cases of ‘advocating terrorism,’ which means ten new cases per day, if we allow prosecutors Sundays off to count up their scores in this surreal new race.

Thirty people have already been sentenced, meaning more have been convicted for this ‘crime’ since the attacks than in the entire last 20 years. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Judges’ Association are all denouncing what they characterize as a totalitarian drift. But those are lonely voices right now.

The French version of the PATRIOT act had been passed by parliament not long before the attacks. The November law allows our great democracy to convict, in fast-track trials, anyone who has the misfortune to utter the wrong words, starting with children.

Immediately after [the Charlie massacre]impressive prison sentences – some of them without possibility of parole—were handed down against a succession of people who happened to have been drunk when they ‘advocated terrorism’ in public: one perpetrator was mentally disabled, another had been caught driving recklessly; there was also one housewife and several municipal employees. Most strikingly, children seem to have become the favored target for our leaders who are determined to instill terror around the country.

In Nantes: a teenager gets on the tramway with her sisters and a friend. Ticket inspectors board the tram and ask to see their tickets. After an argument, the youngest sister says “Watch out! We’re the Kouachi sisters and we’re going to get the Kalashnikovs out!” The inspectors call the police, who arrest the girl; she later appears before a judge, charged with ‘advocating terrorism.’ She is fourteen years old.

Again in Nantes, where incidents like these seem to keep happening: On his Facebook page, a high school student posts a cartoon that he finds particularly ‘funny’-his exact wording. In July, 2013, Charlie Hebdo had published a front page cartoon of an Egyptian being torn apart by bullets in spite of the Quran he hold in front of himself as a shield; the caption read “The Quran is complete shit, it doesn’t stop the bullets at all.” [The context was the Egyptian army’s massacre of hundreds of unarmed Muslim Brotherhood supporters.]

The Nantes high schooler having found on the Internet a parody of this cartoon, posts it on his Facebook page. It shows a journalist holding a copy of Charlie Hebdo in front of himself as a shield and being ripped apart by bullets; the caption reads “Charlie Hebdo is complete shit, it doesn’t stop the bullets at all.”

Days later, he is arrested by police at his home, and jailed until the next day, when he is released on bail and charged with ‘advocating terrorism.’ He is sixteen years old.

But first prize for collective hysteria has to be given to a certain school principal who will recognize himself here. The story was passed along by an educator who has set herself the task of helping out minors who have been swept up in the hysteria. [see following article]

At the age of 14, when teenagers are going through the peak of puberty, when they are just getting their bearings, when they are more obsessed with girls than with politics or their own future, at 14, this boy lived through the hell of police custody, of being confined in a cell, shackled, indicted…all for four words.

Four words that will probably earn him a jail sentence that will follow him around for the rest of his life, four words that have added his name to the list of terrorism offenders, four words that will in short fuck up his whole life.

It is of course completely disproportionate to prosecute a 14-year-old alleged future terrorist at all, but what is even more appalling is that schools are actually setting traps for kids to fall into, rather than educating and protecting them.

This kid did not, after all, just decide to speak his mind without being asked. He didn’t express himself on the street, or on a social network. He quite simply answered a question he was asked by his teacher [saying of the Kouachi brothers ‘They were right.’]

Schools should be a harbor for learning, for explaining, for dialogues, but our Socialist Party leaders, with the enthusiastic help of overzealous bureaucrats- are turning it into a place of snitching and repression, and soon enough into a giant reeducation camp for 12 million children.

In the name of defending freedom of expression, the Socialists are organizing the biggest robbery of our civil liberties in history.

Another one like George Bush did in America after 9-11.

Here is their reasoning: the terrorists killed Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, trying to put an end to freedom of expression. Those who do not condemn the terrorists are therefore opposed to freedom of expression, and must themselves be tried, imprisoned, and deprived of their freedoms, including their own freedom of expression. How logical does all of that sound? It is, in plain language, totalitarian, stupid, entirely incoherent: in a word, Socialist.

Double standards? Yes, exactly. That a kid unthinkingly blurts out four words means he will be thrown into the grinding machine, demolished, branded a terrorist for the rest of his life. While Charlie Hebdo in the meantime publishes another cartoon, stirring riots in numerous countries, leading to dozens of deaths, French flags burned throughout the world, and this is called ‘freedom of expression.’

Charlie Hebdo is not dead. With more than seven million copies [of the first post-massacre edition]printed and sold at three Euros each, they are piling up what must be several years worth of revenue with only one issue.

No, it is freedom that died on Jan. 7, 2014. Emmanuel Valls [the French Prime Minister], who is getting ready to campaign in the upcoming Socialist Party primaries, has warned the children: “Your generation must get used to living with this danger for a certain number of years.” Taking advantage of the attacks, the Socialist government is carrying out the most repressive policies the country has seen since the [Fascist] Vichy regime.

Their goal is simple: after having imposed on the country a collective minute of silence [following the massacre], they will now impose two and a half years of silence; just enough time to get to the next presidential elections. I won’t draw you a picture to help you understand; drawing pictures is getting too dangerous. Either you fall under the bullets of the terrorists, or you fall into the cells of the secular socialist republic of France.

The dictatorship is now.

Philippe Alain

Translated from French by International Boulevard


From Rue89, the story of a thirteen-year-old boy arrested, handcuffed and jailed for one of those senseless and inconsequential things thirteen year old boys are wont to say to show off…

Patricia, an educator, has been assigned to work on the case of a student accused of defending terrorism during a middle school debate about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. She deplores what she calls “collective madness.”

Born south of the Loire River fourteen years ago this April, he is sent to me as one of the Republic’s bad jokes.

His parents come from Morocco and Tunisia; for the last twenty years, they have run a restaurant in a small town south of the Loire.

They haven’t called the restaurant ‘Oasis’ or ‘Djerba’; it has a local name, that of a regional dance.

Alone with me in the courthouse, the mother of the boy is living out the failure of a life dedicated entirely to blending in, to making people forget what she is, where she came from. Clearly, there is an intense desire to be ‘integrated’ into society.

She wants to explain who she is, to demonstrate, to prove, to make us understand.

“A shopkeeper, respected, respectful with others,” she says. “A mother of four children who are courteous and polite, appreciated by the neighbors, with parents who always show up for the parent-teacher conferences for all of the children; a family of moderate, non-practicing Muslims.”

These are the precise words she uses, and I give her the time to make this lengthy, unusually long introduction of herself.

I promise her I will photocopy the letters she has tucked here into an envelope, and read them later. Testimony, often unsolicited testimony, from neighbors, shopkeepers, the gym teacher, the head of the soccer club; they have all written to offer their good opinion of the boy’s family. Later, I read,

“Parents, hard working, polite children, he’s a soccer player who has been cited as an exemplar for his behavior both on the field and with his buddies. This case is surreal.”

I note the variety of family names born by these character witnesses: Gallic, Armenian, Spanish, North African…finally the mother begins to speak to me about her child.

“A boy who is nice to everyone, a good student up to now, but who has been growing up, wants to show off, thinking about girls, and his grades started slipping. His father smacked him, and since then, we’ve been ‘ruining his life.’

She starts out this discourse tense, determined. She ends it in tears, collapsing like the world she thought she had so carefully constructed.

My boy is in his third year of general studies at an ordinary public middle school run by the Republic. An institution of no particular note, neither considered elite, nor problematic.

The whole family returns home. I will remain and talk to the school’s principal. A different kind of conversation now, with an educator who will, he as well, need to talk out all that has suddenly hit him in the face since this affair began. It tumbles out of him, disordered.

“He’s not an angel, he can’t keep his mouth shut, he always has to put his two cents in,” the principal tells me. “He’s already had warnings, once for harassing a girl. I know the parents well; the mother is alright, but I have already told the father he is much too easy on them. The other day his daughter played her phone out loud in class, it was the call to prayer. Her father came to the school, and slapped her right in front of me. Maybe it wasn’t exactly the right thing to do, but it was a start.”

“For fifteen years we have been saying things can’t go on this way; there’s no respect for secularism. I have posted the Charter everywhere. The higher-ups don’t want to understand, they leave us with no direction. There are teachers who tell me they are going to vote for the National Front.”

But what did he do anyway, this pesky kid, to draw the wrath of heaven down on himself, to entangle himself in the net of the legal system, to ruin my day?

On Thursday in class, he observed the moment of silence [for the victims of the Charlie massacre]. And on Friday afternoon, during a class discussion, he replied to a question from the teacher, and all hell broke loose.

“I raised my hand,” he tells me, “and I said, ‘they were right.’ [“Ils ont eu raison”]I said those four words, ma’am. I don’t even know why I said them. They just came out by themselves. My buddies asked me, ‘Why did you say something like that? You’re crazy!’ The teacher said to me, ‘If that’s what you think, then leave the classroom.’”

On Sunday he went to play soccer, and observed the moment of silence before the game. “It was nice, we stood in a circle, with our hands on each others’ necks.”

On Monday morning, he was called into the principal’s office. “You are going to lay the whole thing out for me.” He was sent to the mediator, who had him write out his version of events.

Monday afternoon, he was called back to the principal’s office. He has apologized, said he was sorry. But no doubt too late, and not loudly enough.

Tuesday, he was back at the principal’s office, this time with his parents. His punishment took the form of what the school calls ‘a conservative measure.’ He was suspended from school for a week, after which he would appear before a disciplinary council, possibly for permanent expulsion. Neither my boy nor his parents quite understand why.

And after all this, on Wednesday, the principal went down to the police station and lodged a complaint against him.
Thursday morning, he and his parents went to the police station, summoned for a ‘hearing.’ He is taken into custody for 24 hours.

Friday morning at 8 AM, he was still there, in the jail cells of the courthouse; he comes in wearing handcuffs, awaiting the investigation on the charge of justifying an act of terrorism.

Justifying, my boy doesn’t even haave the slightest idea what that might mean. Terrorism? That’s peple who kill for no reason. Then, racking his brain, “is it related to the word ‘terror’?”

He is in a deep hole. I am with him in his cell, and together we try to imagine tomorrow, to imagine him returning to school. He is not too worried about the reaction fo his classmates.

“It’ll be the same as always,” he tells me. “It’s our class. W’re not all friends, but we get along.”

But what about his teachers, what will they think of him?

In the three hours I have been here, I have listened to the mother, to the son, and have written have of my report.

I make my preliminary oral report to the juvenile court’s investigating judge, who is wondering what this half-baked case is even doing on his docket. But all the same, he decides to carry through with the investigation.

“We may end up altering the charges,” he says. “And when is case is heard, we may decide to waive any punishment, if the parents bring in the report he wrote at a school.”

It takes all of ten minutes to complete the proceedings, and everyone is sent home not knowing whether the punishment will eventually be waived. We will wait eight months, a year for the judge’s decision.

My boy has gotten the full works: arrest, handcuffs, immediate processing.

I sleep badly. I am afraid for this little boy, for his parents. I am frightened by the securitarian response of state institutions, of the way there is no room for common sense or judgment, of the way everyone simply takes orders from higher ups, of the increasing severity to show the media that the schools are on the case. Because one of the arguments in support of chain reactions like the one I have just experienced, often the first argument, is this:

We are being watched by the media, by public opinion.

I am tired of this collective madness, this madness that after a beautiful burst of national fraternity, now seeks out and hunts down the guilty, amid this chaos that we are all going to have to live with, and in which I myself must do my work.

Patricia, educator. Translated from French by Suzanne Ruta for International Boulevard

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