Reflections from Paris on Standing in Solidarity Against Hate

I just returned from a trip to Paris and came away with a profound respect for the courage, strength, and resilience of the people of France. They’re determined not to let the attacks stop them from carrying on with their daily lives.


Prior to heading to Paris I checked in with our contacts to see if it was appropriate to go forward with planned meetings to discuss our research on the violent cycle of antisemitism and extremism in France, which erupted beyond our wildest nightmares on November 13th. We were told in no uncertain terms that now, more than ever, it was vitally important to bring together civil society and talk about how to turn words into actions and promote tolerance.

The Shoah Memorial, which hosted one of our meetings, stayed open after the attacks. This decision is particularly brave in light of the recent reports that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the leader behind the Paris attacks, also planned to target Jewish communities and schools.


This news of potential Jewish targets is a chilling reminder that antisemitism is an animating belief for hate groups. It is a dangerous thread connecting Islamist extremists and neo-Nazis. 


Many of the people I spoke with in Paris emphasized that the November 13 attacks were against all Parisians and that the safety of everyone needs to be equally protected. The attackers targeted people of all faiths, races and ethnicities. It is time now to stand in solidarity against hate.


And as we look for a path forward, we must recognize that what differentiates France, the United States, and other democratic nations from ISIL and its ilk is our shared belief in respect for human rights, rule of law, freedom, equality, and democracy. We cannot let those who seek to destroy our humanity and create a clash of civilizations succeed.


We cannot help but worry, therefore, about aspects of the French government’s response to the attacks, including its use of the broad powers granted by the state of emergency, which the French Parliament extended for three months. It allows the government to conduct warrantless searches, seize computer files, shut down websites, forbid mass gatherings, and impose house arrest with little oversight. 


Authorities have reportedly already conducted more than a thousand warrantless searches, detained more than a hundred people, and placed more than two hundred under house arrest. 


While France has legitimate security concerns, this expansive use of emergency powers puts the rights of all citizens at risk.


As the COP 21 World Climate Summit convenes, the government put 24 environmental activists under house arrest to keep them from demonstrating. French authorities say this measure is meant to allow security forces to focus on dealing with terrorism threats. Yet this appears to be a troubling overreach in restricting freedom of assembly.  


And it contradicts the message of confidence sent by the decision to go forward with the climate summit, with 150 world leaders in attendance. As President Obama eloquently said in Paris today we are “united in solidarity, not only to deliver justice to the terrorist network responsible for those attacks but to protect our people and uphold the enduring values that keep us strong and keep us free.”  


As the United States is still learning many years after 9/11, we should be cautious about trading away civil liberties in the short term. Affiriming our commitment to human rights serves our longterm interests.


Tolerance can and must overcome hatred. It is our collective responsibility to come together to promote pluralistic, inclusive societies where the rights of all are protected equally. That is the vision of long term security we should all aspire to.


Published on December 1, 2015


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