When Islamist radicals destroy centuries-old artifacts, from Bamyan to Palmyra, civilized people everywhere register their outrage. Yet in the name of fighting those same Islamists, some Western governments are destroying their own architecture of legal and human rights that took centuries to build.
The United States, post-9/11, offers countless examples. But now the government of French President François Hollande is bucking condemnations from local and international human rights groups, the United Nations, and the European Council to ram through parliament constitutional amendments that would permanently enshrine the government’s emergency powers.
In the classic words of authoritarian leaders everywhere, France’s interior minister insists, “it is terrorism that is the threat to freedom not the state of emergency.”
France is today living under a temporary national state of emergency, imposed after the Nov. 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and injured hundreds. Already extended once, the emergency will expire Feb. 26, unless extended again by parliament.
The national emergency — based on legislation dating back to the Algerian War in 1955 — gives the government extraordinary rights to search homes and hold people under house arrest without warrants, ban public protests, and censor the media. The French bar association condemned it as “a judicial and social model which breaks with republican values.”
The constitutional amendments, if adopted, would not only bar legal challenges to the emergency powers, but would strip French-born nationals of their citizenship if they are convicted of terrorism. Hollande’s Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, resigned in protest against the latter proposal. She tweeted, with a nod to Charles de Gaulle, “sometimes resisting means leaving.”