Skip to main content

When more than a million people marched through Paris on Sunday chanting "We are all Charlie!" they did so in defence of the French ideals of personal liberty, and the right to unqualified freedom of speech.

But there are already signs that France is in for a period of shrinking freedoms, with the country's Muslims likely to bear the brunt.

On Monday night at a wine bar on Rue Washington, just off the Champs Élysées, I saw first hand what France's new normal looks like – at least in the short term – following last week's deadly attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket.

First, two military jeeps crammed with green-uniformed soldiers clutching automatic weapons rolled by.

Later, as some British colleagues and I sat drinking our wine, a trio of heavily armed police rushed and dragged out a dark-skinned man who had been sitting at the bar. Outside, another man – also of North African appearance – was being pushed against a car and handcuffed by yet more police.

Two of us followed the police into the streets, intent on discovering what had prompted the raid. An officer blocked our way and told us to go back inside the bar. He was unimpressed with our press cards. "No filming," he said to my friend, who had pulled out his iPhone. The officer claimed that filming a police action was illegal "in this situation."

When I argued that we were doing our jobs as journalists, the officer insisted we depart. "That is, if you're with us."

"Si vous êtes avec nous." I had heard the same five words a few days earlier, when a French colleague and I took pictures of armed soldiers and police in the Gare du Nord train station. "No photos," said an undercover policewoman who appeared beside me. "If you're with us."

Already, it's "with-us-or-against us" time, borrowing from the pose the United States struck following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Forget that the Paris nightmare began with an attack on a newspaper office, on freedom of speech, on journalists. Never mind that one of the key roles of journalists in any democracy is to monitor and question whether the laws are being fairly applied. Security is now paramount, overriding even those freedoms many see as the true target of the Islamist extremists behind last week's violence.

With almost no debate, some 10,000 troops have been deployed to counter a threat that the wars since 2001 have shown no amount of military force can subdue.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, used the moment to call for a referendum on the use of the death penalty, which France abandoned in 1981. While the French response to last week's attacks has been inspiring, – thousands who rallied immediately on Place de la République, even as the gunmen were still at large in the hours following the attack on Charlie Hebdo – most French people I spoke to believe the events will also feed the rise of the National Front, which plays on anti-immigrant sentiment and already had the support of a quarter of the population before the attacks.

Jewish schools, tourist sites, newspaper offices and transit hubs around France have been understandably placed under heavy guard. But there seems to be far less of an effort to protect the country's mosques, despite 21 reported attacks involving drive-by shootings or small explosives since last week.

Muslims in places like Gennevilliers, the Paris suburb where Saïd and Chérif Kouachi lived before they launched their attack on Charlie Hebdo, already had a troubled relationship with police. That lack of trust led to a situation where neighbours didn't tell police that the Kouachi brothers were seen locally as radicals and known to be accumulating a dangerous arsenal. Treating all French Muslims as potential suspects won't improve the situation.

As police pushed the two young men detained at the bar on Rue Washington into vehicles, I agreed to go back inside if the officer told me why they had been arrested. He said I'd have to ask the bartender, who had been the one to call police to the scene.

The bartender answered with a shrug. The man now taken away by police had said "something uncomfortable," he explained unhelpfully.

Then the bartender added the same qualifier that the police officer had used a few minutes earlier: "In this situation."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Check Following for new articles

Interact with The Globe