Thursday, 29 January 2015

Can a piece of tape make us safe from terrorism?

Last week I arrived at work (a university outside Paris) to discover I couldn't enter the door. It was chained and had tape wrapped around it. I tried another door, and other. Three sides of the building had hastily printed signs saying the doors were 'condemned'. It was the same in the other campus buildings. There was only one entry/exit door per building. These are buildings of 4-6 levels. It was pouring with rain and I was carrying almost 20 kgs of equipment and documents so I was a bit perturbed. It was also ironic as I was told by the photocopying office that they were unable to print teaching materials for students as they were out of paper.

As I trudged around the campus looking for ways in, I noticed that there were metal barriers wrapped around with red and white plastic tape outside the uni. It looked like a crime scene. All parking outside had been eliminated.  It was still the case this week so I asked reception what was going on? The nice man replied that it was by order of the Prefecture, not even the president of the university had done this; a consequence of the Vigipirate - the French level of security alert. Hmm. I felt damned uncomfortable but I didn't feel menaced by terrorists. I felt scared because of the reaction.

President Holland had publicly stated that 'we would not be afraid... we would never give in to terrorists...' but haven't we just done that, emotionally? I'm all for keeping folks safe (including my students and me), but it needs to be carefully thought out and implemented properly. France knew about the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher supermarket terrorists before it happened but failed to act to prevent the massacre. Here we were with no identifiable threat but we were blocking the doors and turning the place into a shrine to fear.

So let's look at this logically. If they want to control entry they need to have it under surveillance. There are very amateurish and extremely recent computer-printed signs suggesting the entry is under surveillance. Really? I could see no sign of a camera. Having a camera wouldn't be very useful; you need an armed person checking everyone's ID and bags in order to keep us safe. There is no-one. Why? No money, my students told me.

Then I remember President Hollande had suddenly found the resources in this indebted country to increase security personnel around France by an extra 50,000 which seems to have automatically increased his appalling popularity rating from barely two figures to a whopping 40% in just a week. Bad news is good news/ the sheeple have clearly thought this through. But my uni is obviously too far out from Paris to be considered important enough by the politicians and tacticians to protect in truly practical terms. Here are the various levels of the vigipirate...

I asked the nice man at reception how long the doors would be blocked. As long as we have the terror alert, he informed me. Well, I don't know what it will take to suddenly have the world a safer place so we can lower the vigipirate. Prime Minister Valls was reported in the media last week as saying that students would have to get used to living their lives indefinitely now under a threat of terrorism. OKayyy!

I wondered what my students thought so I asked them. Discussions on the serious situation facing France is encouraged in primary schools, to help people cope,  so listening to students was interesting for me because this sort of situation is not yet the norm in New Zealand (though the NZ Prime Minister is probably taking actions to ensure it becomes so, one day).

The general feeling was the splendid show of unity in the post-Charlie march in Paris hadn't achieved anything of lasting value. One student said a bomb launched into a uni building would mean no-one would get out via one small door. How quickly would campus security get the doors open again in a different emergency? The order to shut the buildings' doors, effectively keeping people from getting out in a hurry, and the threat to search bags (never happens) was symbolic, they told me, as without true monitoring of doors anyone can enter; it changes safety not a wit, in a positive sense.

Don't worry, my students said, eventually they'll have to lower the alert level otherwise they won't have a level left to raise it to if something else happens. They can't keep it like that but they must be seen to be doing something. Sure, I agree but couldn't they do something logical, realistic, effective? Do I have to continue indefinitely to operate in such a negative environment, in the middle of a crime scene, only there's no crime? There has been nothing but silence from the uni's communication department. I can't find any mention of any of this on the uni website news page.

Humans are adaptable so my students and I will all get used to reduced rights and a negative atmosphere. It's actually easier to deal with this than the fact that it's impossible to buy a drink on campus. I'm on campus from 8.30am-8pm on Mondays, for example. My health is more under threat from dehydration and urinary tract infections caused by lack of any drink vending machines than radicalised students or outsiders.
I applaud the sentiments that brought people out in Paris and got them talking about free speech but day-to-day life is not showing any positive changes for the better and I don't feel safer. The local armed military personnel are only evident in the Paris area of Ile de France. We chuckled ironically, shook our heads and shrugged our shoulders, my students and I, as our way of trying to deal with the changed situation and the craziness of it all. After all, what can any of us do, caught between terrorists and politicians.

Well done to all the boots-on-the-ground personnel dedicated to helping some of us stay safe, but where to from here?

Sunday, 11 January 2015

In the wake of "Charlie"

It wasn't a happy start to the year - watching terrorists massacring innocents in Paris. I wasn't too surprised but it was shocking and I had the luxury of watching it on TV from the safety of a location outside Paris. I've lived in France for more than 4 years now and the current situation is alarming. As an 'outsider still' I try to use my otherness to look at things from a neutral perspective or at least try to appreciate different sides but I'm starting to become convinced that France has certainly created this problem but its ruling ideology will never take the steps to rectify the problems because it wouldn't be politically correct.

France is not a meritocracy.You don't get to enter and succeed based on your commitment and interest in the good of France. If that was the case a lot of dodgy people with no French language or resources or education would never have been allowed to enter.  Once you're here you can't say anything bad about groups of people who share a particular religion or ethnicity or you are racist, even if some facts are clearly there. Rights are quickly defended except for the rights of the majority to be able to move around France in relative safety. To my mind, it's a twisted sort of thinking leading to some reasonable fears for the future culture of France. There really are threats ahead.

There are 751 no-go zones in France. For a list of those you can visit this government website list of no-go zones
 They are usually low education, low employment, low levels of home ownership areas. What this means is that if you are not of a certain type you don't enter. That includes emergency and government services like the police. So these little 'states' rule themselves according to their own rules; often islamic sharia law. This makes drug dealing, organised crime and jihadi recruiting rather easy because the State isn't going to interfere. I scratch my head. What on earth is France thinking?

 I agree that most Muslims are not terrorists and it's a shame they get lumped in with it all, but what's really being done to separate the two? The parade in Paris, avoiding its no-go zones of course, isn't really going to achieve much, I fear. Good to see the 'French' not cowering down, and wanting to keep relatively free speech and democracy but this is an internal war. They've got to clean out these nests of vipers with French nationality. How to do that? I hear some pretty alarming suggestions from some quarters which will be unworkable and will just augment the hate, but you can't have 'freedom to live separate and in hate' for the haters and no freedom for the rest? Jews are leaving France in unprecedented numbers because they feel it's not safe to stay. Some of them might go back to Israel and support the occupation of Palestine though. What a twisted world.

The terrorist who killed shoppers in the Jewish supermarket was one of 10 kids whose family had lived free (ie provided for) thanks to the State. I think French taxpayers have a right to expect all citizens to accept the French way of life or get out willingly or be evicted, instead of being murderous parasites and killing the hand that fed it for decades. If it's good enough for Napoleon to be exiled in the middle of the Atlantic surely we can airdrop these vermin somewhere like that. French nationality should be conditional on good behaviour and integration, for all citizens. It will be the case for me, why not them?

I'm not yet French but I feel proud of some of the values held here, yet horrified by the ridiculous ideologies that have allowed this situation to continue. If citizens don't feel part of a country it's up to them to adapt, not the other way around. The real problem is these no-go zones, and that everyone should be treated with the utmost niceness while they are murdering you, threatening your way of life, insisting France become a different country. France has 10% of its population Muslim. In my opinion this is only unbalanced if they persist in living as they did in their countries of origin. I have no problem with anyone who integrates - there's no reason to fear them.

I have many religions in my classes. I'm an atheist so I have to have tolerance for their views, so long as they are not trying to force it down my throat or threaten me. None of that, fortunately, happens as they are interesting and pleasant people. I'm also comfortable sharing my atheist ideas. That's how it should be. We listen, we learn, and we agree or disagree, that's all. And I'm not left, right or centre; I have the best of everything in my head and live by my own rules in accord with the rules of the country I live in.

I think this march today should be about freedom of speech and thought and religion but only if you consider yourself French first; not Jewish or Muslim or Catholic etc. France first, personal life at least second. I fear today's symbolic gathering may achieve little, or perhaps it's a start of a better way... we'll see. JC and I wanted to participate to show solidarity against terrorism and fear, to support French values of freedom but we were sadly too sick to spend many hours in the cold.

Note: I'm glad the scum terrorists were shot dead. No need to waste more money on them with a pointless trial, publicity and jail. They killed jews, muslims and christians alike. Likewise I don't include pics of them because they deserve to be invisible. I wish the media would understand that. If we no longer need to identify them we don't need to give them visual publicity.