In France, A Balancing Act Between Liberty And Security
One year ago, gunmen stormed the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and began a three-day killing spree that would claim 17 lives. Ten months later, in November, armed Islamist radicals struck the city again, killing scores at cafes and a concert hall.
In 2015, we saw the most deadly attacks on French soil since World War II. President Francois Hollande says France is at war. His country, which has long stood for individual freedom, is trying to balance that freedom with the need for security.
In his traditional New Year's Eve address, Hollande told the French they aren't finished with terrorism. "The threat is still there," he said, "and it's at its highest level ever. We are regularly thwarting new attacks."
Indeed, Paris police on Thursday shot and killed a man brandishing a knife who'd tried to enter a police station wearing a fake suicide vest.
To fight terrorism, Hollande said the French government would seek to amend the country's constitution to make it easier for the president to impose states of emergency in the future. The state of emergency allows police to conduct searches and seizures and detain people at any time without a warrant.
Hollande also wants to modify the constitution to enshrine a proposal long associated with the far right: stripping convicted terrorists with dual citizenship of their French nationality.
The proposals have caused a political uproar. But in today's France, facing terror in its streets, the lines between left and right have blurred.
Constitutional law professor Didier Maus says the debate is similar to that in the U.S. over the Patriot Act.
"We must find a middle place between what is acceptable in the name of fighting terrorism and what is impossible in the name of defending liberty," he says.
All week, French TV has aired riveting documentaries detailing the attacks. They show some stunning security failures. When police arrived at Charlie Hebdo, the killing had not yet started. But officers were unaware that the controversial newspaper was located in the building — even though it had been firebombed four years earlier for republishing Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
One of the two attackers was supposed to be under police surveillance, but authorities lost his trail when he left Paris for another French city.
France is struggling to deal with radicalization, and the prime minister, Manuel Valls, says 1,000 French citizens have gone to fight in Syria — the highest number of citizens of any European country.
Former terrorism judge Jean de Maillard says France has good intelligence but doesn't have the manpower to keep track of individuals once they're identified as potential threats. Hollande has promised more police and judges. And Charlie Hebdo's new editor now has five security guards.
On Tuesday, a plaque to the victims was unveiled near the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Train driver Gilbert Houdinet came to see it. He says France is grasping to deal with a new reality of jihad and terrorism.
"I think people are pushed to extremism because of unemployment and general misery," he says. "Taking away their nationality won't solve the problem. We have to offer jobs and hope for people to live on."
Houdinet says that would cost a lot less than paying all these soldiers and police to guard us.
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