At least 84 people were killed when an attacker plowed through a crowd gathered in Nice, France, for Bastille Day festivities.
As the country and world reel in shock, French President François Hollande already claims the purposeful mowing down of dozens to be a likely act of terrorism.
“The terrorist nature of the attack cannot be denied,” Hollande said early Friday. “We must show absolute vigilance and determination. All of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorism.”
Three days have been set aside to mourn victims of the horrific act, which happened as crowds assembled along Promenade des Anglais in advance of a fireworks display.
One witness, who said attendees had set off their own small fireworks throughout the day, described the scene prior to the attack as ‘jovial’ and ‘upbeat,’and told the Guardian:
“After being there for a little over ten minutes, we heard what sounded like fireworks going off and then heard screaming. All of a sudden, there were hundreds of panic-stricken people running our way and it was clear that if we did not move, we would get trampled. So we started running as fast as we could while having no idea what was going on.”
Two Americans from the Austin, Texas, area — father and son Sean and Brodie Copeland — were among the dead, though most victims are believed to be French citizens.
Police ultimately shot the driver of the truck to halt the carnage. In the aftermath, authorities identified the attacker as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a Tunisian who had a French visa and lived in Nice — and a petty criminal and delivery driver.
Once again, the West struggles to cope with an attack civilians in some areas of the Middle East have become all-too familiar with.
But something the West has come to expect in the wake of such tragedies — increased Police State-like surveillance, controls, security, and altogether lessened freedoms for everyone — is already taking hold.
A seething undercurrent of bigoted animosity wrests reason from the minds of politicians and large segments of the public, as the need to blame begins to usurp logical, cool-headed debate over how, precisely, to react to a vicious attack like the one in Nice.
Wariness should rule such conversations; but reactionary emotions instead have a penchant for taking precedence.
Indeed, though vigilance must be heightened now — it shouldn’t be aimed solely at the vagaries of a terrorist threat. If freedom teeters on the brink, now would be the tipping point.
And it’s already received a push from Hollande who announced the continuance of France’s hotly-contended state of emergency, first declared after 77 people perished in the November 2015 attacks in Paris.
That state of emergency grants the government broad and sweeping overreach into the private lives of citizens. Though initiated within hours of the November 13 attacks, the state of emergency has been extended several times to the consternation of many — and Bouhlel just provided an excuse to allow Hollande to give it three more months.
Police State opportunism abounds, as politicians race to constrict basic rights in the wake of tragedy; and though Americans have a fondness for deluding themselves into thinking, ‘it couldn’t happen here,’ they would be well-advised to reflect on the conditions the French will have to endure for yet another three months. The Guardian reported in April:
“The special emergency measures allow police to conduct house raids and searches without a warrant or judicial oversight, including at night, and give extra powers to officials to place people under house arrest outside the normal judicial process. It also allows for restrictions on large gatherings.”
Several things bear scrutiny. Though opinion polls, dubious as they may be, found most people in France have no problem with such constrictions of their rights, protests against the continued state of emergency have been marked with minorly violent outbursts as many believe the measures both needless and futile against the terrorism they putatively aim to thwart. Considering a truck driver just plowed through scores of people celebrating Bastille Day without alerting French intelligence ahead of time, those concerns are only marginally up for debate.
French citizens originally welcomed the state of emergency’s illusory protections with open arms under the false pretense it would be lifted after three months’ time — obviously, governmental control clamps down more readily than it eases. Here we are, eight months later, and another three-month extension just got the green light.
Human rights groups, lawyers, and advocates have variously warned “the lack of clarity and precision of several provisions of the state of emergency and surveillance laws” could lead to abuse and that it “seriously impacts public freedoms.”
But, what about the terrorists? Apparently, Nice proves that point moot.
But that’s France … we’re still free here. Are you sure?
Though thousands of miles and a sizable ocean away, the assault on Nice immediately reverberated in telling ways in the United States.
The NYPD deployed its dystopically-monikered, heavily-armed ‘Hercules team’ to patrol the French consulate when news of the attack reached New York. A local NBC affiliate reported increased police presence in heavily-trafficked areas and “Gov. Cuomo directed state law enforcement officials to step-up security at high-profile locations around the state, including airports, bridges, tunnels and mass transit systems.”
Perhaps that’s just a taste of what’s to come, considering the U.S. is still embroiled in contention over the epidemic of police violence — and the subsequent attack on police in Dallas, not to mention the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
In fact, all the violence and nationwide protests spawned an expansion of nobody’s favorite legislation but the government’s: the PATRIOT Act. It wouldn’t be difficult to surmise the U.S. government waits breathlessly for the other shoe to drop in order to slip further surveillance and other security measures past the public when panic makes such legislation an appetizing palliative.
After all, the attacks of September 11th gave rise to mass surveillance, quickened the militarization of police, and birthed indefinite detention, all of which have been impossible to rein in or reform in any meaningful way — much less reverse in full.
Though former House Speaker Newt Gingrich might himself be a moot point, the politician didn’t hesitate after the Nice incident to call for an impossibly oppressive and outright bigoted policy targeting Muslim Americans.
“Western civilization is in a war,” Gingrich declared to Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “We should frankly test everyone here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in sharia they should be deported.”
Even corporate media giant the Washington Post flatly derided Gingrich’s flagrant distortion of what would be allowed by the Constitution, pointing out such a policy would directly violate both the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
But to imagine such scaremongering wouldn’t have the desired effect of manipulating a nervous people into undesirable and irreversible policy would be naive.
Just ask the French.
Now is not the time to willingly fork over what few freedoms remain in the name of a murky threat. Now is the time, however, to train our gaze on our impossibly opportunistic legislators.