In Search of an Enemy Within

A young environmentalist, Rémi Fraisse, 21, was killed by a grenade fired by French police on the night of 25-26 October while he was protesting against the building of a dam in the southwest region of Tarn. The government said nothing about it for two days (although it was quick to honour the memory of an oil company boss who died in a plane crash). The Socialist head of the region’s executive council, Thierry Carcenac, said it was “stupid and dumb” of the protestor to die for an idea. His own idea — to build the Sivens dam — had never exposed him to danger; it had even helped him get re-elected to the Senate. But now that police grenade will probably have killed his dam project as well.

The French foreign minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, suggested to Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali back in January 2011 that he consult “the universally recognised expertise of our security forces” to save his crumbling regime. That expertise has blind spots: dozens of Algerians killed in Paris on 17 October 1961; nine people killed at the Charonne metro station in February 1962; and five French demonstrators who have since died in clashes with the police. Rémi Fraisse was the sixth. Shortly after his death, the officer in charge of the riot squad that had been deployed reported that the Tarn’s prefect had asked the police to “exercise extreme firmness in dealing with protestors” at the dam: 42 concussion grenades were fired.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls chose to display his fighting spirit by likening a few Islamists to an “enemy within”. His government immediately laid the blame for the Sivens “drama” on a few “rioters”. Expanding on this, with paranoid overtones of its own, a police union claims to be concerned that “fringe green or red activists may resort to armed action, as the revolutionary movements did back in the 1970s” (1).

In this climate, the National Assembly has, in near unanimity, passed a new anti-terrorist law — the fifteenth since 1986. The law, officially inspired by the wish to prevent French men and women from joining IS (Islamic State), contains measures — an administrative ban on leaving France, the crime of “advocating terrorism” — which could in future apply to other political battles. The French parliament adopted a wide range of similar repressive measures in 2001, when a Socialist senator, Michel Dreyfus-Schmidt, declared: “There are some urgent and unpleasant measures that need to be taken, but I hope that we can return to republican law by the end of 2003” (2). Eleven years later, we have a discredited government with no future, which desperately needs an enemy within.

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique.


(1) Patrice Ribeiro, secretary general of the Synergie-Officiers police union, quoted in Le Figaro,15 November 2014.

(2)  Le Monde, 29 October 2001.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

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Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique

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