France After the November Attacks: An Insider's Perspective

At the front of the long line, a security guard is meticulously going through people’s bags, and checking their IDs. Without ID, you’ll have no luck getting in – some people have taken to carrying their passports around to prevent problems. This is a university library in Guyancourt, at the outskirts of Paris.

The same procedure takes place in all the university buildings around here. You have to leave extra time in the mornings when you’re rushing to class to make up for the security procedures outside, flatly refusing entry if you have forgotten your wallet.

The shopping centres have guards to check customers’ bags. While getting into any of the Parisian museums has always been tough, it is now like going through airport security. This is France under the French government’s national security system for the current state of emergency, Plan Vigipirate.

In the terrorist attacks of 15 November 2015, 130 people died after suicide bombings and shootings in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis and the Bataclan theatre in Paris. These were the deadliest attacks on France since the Second World War, and, since then, France has officially been under a state of emergency.

The state of emergency involves significantly increased levels of security, as well as a number of raids directed at suspected terrorists. Large public gatherings are banned. While this can, and has, applied to anything as innocent as sporting events, it more controversially allowed the French government to ban particular environmental marches late last year. The state of emergency has recently been extended until the end of May, and may well draw on even longer – there has even been discussion of making it permanent. That the results of this system can be felt five months on, outside Paris itself, shows the deep effect the attacks have had on the French national psyche.

The repercussions of the increased standard of security have been severe. Parliamentary debate over the past couple of months has centred on proposed laws that would allow the French government to strip citizenship from convicted terrorists with dual citizenship, even from those born in France. These are extremely similar to the laws that Australia passed in December of last year, and have already proved unpopular – the Minister for Justice, Christine Taubira, controversially resigned over this proposal. These laws have received approval from the National Assembly, the French Parliament’s lower house, and will go before the French Senate later in March.

These governmental responses are especially concerning given the current environment in Europe regarding immigration and refugees. Today’s France is far less welcoming than it would have been in the past. Support for far right parties is increasing drastically. The Front National, in particular, known for its xenophobic policies and extremely conservative stances on other issues such as equal marriage, is rapidly gaining in popularity. It would be hard to deny that some of this support is a direct result of the attacks – they have shaken French society in a unique way, making citizens feel unsafe in a way that previous attacks, such as those upon satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, have not.

Five months on, the responses to November’s attacks in Paris are still felt in French society. The level of security even on the outskirts of Paris is high, and the state of emergency, and all the consequences of this, will not stop until May at the earliest. Without a doubt, legal and political repercussions will continue to appear throughout the months and years to come.

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