Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris attacks

Make CSI , not WW III;
Crimes, not acts of war

By Terry Maguire[1]

Nice, France – November 14, 2015 – We can be pretty sure this morning that the deaths last night at several locations in Paris, the capital of this country, were cold-blooded murders. The images that have been broadcast and otherwise published leave little doubt.

The front page of Nice-Matin, the city’s newspaper, this morning.
            Beyond that, we do not know – with certainty – much more.
This hand-drawn symbol emerged on onine overnight.
            That’s part of why I think we need to take a quick, but deep, breath, and ask ourselves, and our governments, whether the response should be to wage war or whether we need the very best investigations of these presumed crimes in order to bring the surviving perpetrators to the bar of justice. Some in France, notably former French President Nicolas SARKOZY, have already concluded that we are at war with the people he and others feel are responsible for these acts.
            The French government has spoken through its President, Prime Minister and the director of law enforcement, announcing a vague state of emergency and new border restrictions, while they also try to calm the understandably frazzled nerves of so many people in what the French call their five-sided country. Others are looking to one online posting, purportedly coming from the group known by so many names including the “Islamic State” claiming responsibility, then assuming at first blush its authenticity.
            Meanwhile, I sense that many people living in other parts of France, untouched directly by last night’s incidents, are afraid. And I wondered as I walked the streets of Nice this morning, what each person was thinking. I saw no one who looked afraid, but I have no idea what may have been in their heads. That was particularly true when I passed several veiled women and some men who may very well have been Muslim. Were they more worried about the glances from the rest of us than about the attacks?
            All of this comes at a particularly difficult time for France, as French voters prepare to go to the polls next month to select a group of leaders for regions in France. (Imagine that the US states were grouped into 5 regions of 10 states each; those are the “regions” electing leaders here.) The contest for the region in which Nice finds itself is particularly close and pertinent.
            The party of SARKOZY has picked the Mayor of Nice who is an attractive rags-to-riches, motor cycle-riding and marathon-running candidate. His toughest opponent is the attractive granddaughter of the founder of the legendary extreme right party, called the National Front. It’s as though we are watching a US Republican candidate run against a Tea Party leader.
            Immigration is a major issue in the campaign and I expect to see both candidates use last night’s tragedy to convince us voters that he/she is the better qualified to protect “us” from “them”. The “Liberté, Egalite, Fraternité” mentioned by President OBAMA last night will get a run for its money in coming weeks. Don’t count on the campaign to result in talk of the values of diversity, inclusion, or fairness.
            In such a tense environment, I think we need to look at last night as a series of heinous criminal acts that demand the most professional investigation that French, foreign and international law enforcement can muster. We have suffered awful acts by people dead and alive this morning, who need to be found and/or investigated. Those at large need to be captured. Those who died last night need to be understood, if we can. And for any and all who may have aided the assailants in preparing these attacks, we need to find them, too, and subject them to fair and intense questioning, at a minimum.
            This is the very best way for us all to encourage our governments to act, and the way in which we can do the most to avoid more atrocities.
            If we allow ourselves to view this as “war”, we risk scaring ourselves to death, and, more significantly, we risk trampling over the rights and lives of so many so unnecessarily. Instead, we should be cooperating with law enforcement in their work, volunteering anything and everything that might be of value to them that we might have seen or know. A “war” focus for the response will lead us to view the problem as vaguely “foreign” and large populations of people as the “enemies”.
            I hope that others will agree with me on this, and that we can do what we should have done 14 years ago when the US suffered such horrific attacks – respond to last night’s atrocities with the professionalism, fairness, and thoroughness that I know lies within the criminal justice systems of the French Republic and the United States of America.
            Please don’t retreat from these values; we will be safer and better if we work to make them even stronger and more effective in protecting all people from criminal acts.

The French and Nice flags at half-mast this morning in the Nice Port.

[1] Terry Maguire is a Washington, DC lawyer, former newspaper association executive and international media consultant; he lives in Nice and in Chapel Hill, and is a US and European citizen.

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