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Two years after Bataclan terror attacks France 'must forget'

November 13, 2017

Life in the Paris music club's street seems to have returned to normal. Yet omnipresent police and a new counterterrorism law reveal the lasting effects of the night when 90 people lost their lives at the Bataclan.

The facade of the Bataclan music club in Paris
Image: DW/L.Albrecht

Ronam, who declined to give his surname, lives right next to the Bataclan on Boulevard Richard Lenoir in the 11th district of Paris. On November 13, 2015, when he first heard the shots and the noise from next door, he didn't know what was going on, the 55-year-old told DW. Later, coffins were carried right by his window.

Has his life changed in any way? "No, strangely enough, it hasn't," he says, his little daughter impatiently tugging on his arm. "You go shopping, you go to school, buy bread — and after a month or two, you don't think about it anymore."

The locals go shopping, they go for a run, walk their dogs — business as usual. Almost. Police officers and soldiers stand at every intersection with a traffic light, armed with machine guns, carrying walkie-talkies, a strained look on their faces.

Read more: Emotional week for Paris attacks survivors and victims' families

Foiled terror attacks

Shortly after the attack on the Bataclan, President Francois Hollande called a state of emergency that was to stay in place for almost two years. It was extended again and again, even under his successor Emmanuel Macron. It allowed for more staff and permitted house searches and house arrest without a warrant.

Emmaneul Macron and Anne Hidalgo stand outside the Bataclan on the two-year anniversary
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Macron commemorate the two-year anniversary of the Bataclan attackImage: Reuters/E. Laurent

Under the state of emergency, the police could ban and break up public gatherings and demonstrations, and they had the power to limit or control access to public spaces. Within the span of these two years, the authorities managed to thwart 32 terror attacks. They searched 4,457 apartments and mosques, put 439 people under house arrest and shut down 17 mosques, 11 of which are still closed.

Many human rights activists branded the measures taken under the state of emergency as discriminatory.

"The people affected are almost all Muslim, with the exception of a few left-wing extremists," says Emmanuel Daoud, a French lawyer.

Safety or freedom?

"I think the politicians need to take action," Ronam argues. From the corner of his eye, he watches his daughter, who has stopped tugging his sleeve and is standing in front of their house, waiting to be let in. "We may be forced to give up some of our freedom," he muses. "If you see dozens of coffins carried past your window, you're not thinking of the freedom of opinion as much as whether you can move around freely with a stroller."

But Emmanuel Daoud, a member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and an attorney with the International Criminal Court (ICC), says the state of emergency has no benefits but instead threatens the division of powers.

"The authorities were able to expand their influence over individual freedom," he says, adding that a new legal status was created for suspects which curtailed their freedom before they even took criminal action. "The measures were often taken in a discriminatory fashion."

Even lawyers had little influence, Daoud says. "The judiciary was excluded from the state of emergency."

A solider stands guard with a machine gun in front of the Eifel tower
Police remain highly visible throughout Paris two years after coordinated terrorist attacksImage: Getty Images/AFP/C. Hartmann

Permanent exception?

President Macron terminated the state of emergency on November 1, but many regulations are still in place because a new couterterrorism law replaced the state of emergency when it expired. Measures meant to be taken in emergencies are being continued. They have become commonplace.

Terror suspects can be obliged not to leave their city and to report to the police on a regular basis. House searches are permitted, though only with a judicial warrant. Places of prayer can be closed if they propagate extremist ideas.

"The new law's stipulations contain numerous attacks on the rights and liberties protected under the European Human Rights Convention," Emmanuel Daoud says, listing "the right to safety, the right to respect of a person's private and family life, the freedom of faith, conscience and creed."

An appeal before the European judiciary against the new law is quite likely, the French lawyer says.

The law to "Strengthen Internal Security and the Fight Against Terrorism" allows the authorities to "take measures based solely on suspicion and not a positive offense and to limit people's personal freedom," Emmanuel Daoud says. The law is likely to affect only a small percentage of the population that has already been scrutinized during the state of emergency, he adds. "That will split our society even more, and make it more susceptible."

Macron comforts a mourning man
Macron comforts a man who lost a loved one at the Bataclan attack. The president signed a new counterrorism law on October 30.Image: Reuters/E. Laurent

'We must forget'

A quiet, narrow street branches off the intersection right by the Bonne Biere cafe, where five people were shot in the terror attacks two years ago. Nearby, a young student is waiting for a friend. She never really thought about whether the state of emergency was a good idea, Marilou Drulhes says, adding that perhaps it was necessary "for a few days or weeks, since people needed to feel safe But after that..."

How does she feel about the counterterrorism law that has given permanency to some of the measures introduced under the state of emergency? "I don't think curtailing people's freedom is a solution," says the young student, who admits to not knowing much about the new legislation. However, she believes restricting liberties "would fuel fear and split society."

Fragrant tarts and baguettes beckon from the window of the bakery across from the Bonne Biere cafe. During the attack two years ago, the Moroccan-born baker Ahmed Meziane was hit by bullets, too. While the anniversary of the attacks brings back memories, Meziane says he is looking firmly to the future. Meziane welcomes the counterterrorism law because it means the police will be protecting him and his bakery.

"We must forget," Meziane told DW. "We redecorated and renovated the bakery four months ago so we could forget."

The trauma of the Bataclan