French press review 20 November 2015

7 min

What does the fact that terrorist suspect Abdelhamid Abaaoud died on French soil say about the French intelligence services and the Schengen no-border zone? And what have French and international writers been making of last week's Paris killings?


Right-wing paper Le Figaro says the fact that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the world's most-wanted terrorists, died in Wednesday's Paris shoot-out is a chilling indictment of Europe's no-borders policy.

Although Abaaoud is suspected of having masterminded at least four terrorist plots over the past six months, and was identified as the organiser of last Friday's Paris attacks, local police had no idea that he was in Europe, much less that he was in the French capital. And this for an individual who was the subject of an international arrest warrant. Everyone thought he was in Syria.

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

Le Figaro's editorial is headlined "Forget Schengen", a reference to the 26-nation bloc where customs and border formalities are, under normal circumstances, a thing of the past.

Border controls have been reimposed in France under the current state of emergency but Le Figaro wants the logic of the situation to be recognised by the Socialist government: a Europe in which individuals can circulate freely will never be secure.

Of course, Le Figaro has another axe to grind.

Terrorists are just the tip of the iceberg represented by the hundreds of thousands of refugees who become uncontrolable once they cross one of the external Schengen frontiers. The conservative paper wants something done, with the possibility of the reinstatement of national borders at least worth considering. More cooperation between national police services would also be a good idea.

Le Figaro accepts that the best border controls in the world won't save Europe from future terrorist attack but they should at least make the realisation of their plans more difficult for the would-be killers.

Left-leaning Libération looks at the way the Islamic State armed group is financed, suggesting that the opaque world of offshore accounts is being used to hide a vast opearting capital, drawn from crude oil, slavery, robbery and the taxation of local populations.

Communist L'Humanité assures us that democracy is a weapon in the struggle against the holy warriors. The paper is worried that the understandable desire to increase security may result in a permanent loss of civil liberties.

Catholic paper La Croix asks young French people to explain how last Friday's tragic events in Paris have changed their conception of the future. Courage and optimism are the predominant themes.

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Le Monde asked 28 writers to react to the Paris killings. The results are included in a special books supplement headlined "Write without fear". It's a remarkable document.

Novelist Laurent Mauvignier says Friday 13 demands nothing more nor less than a commitment to the way we used to live, before. We have to go to rock concerts, sit outside bars, write novels about life, love, loneliness, even terrorism. Because that is now a permanent part of lives which need to be lived with even greater intensity to defeat the danger of silence.

Rwandan writer Scholastique Mukasonga finds no answers, just questions as she reflects on what happened in this city one week ago today. And she ends her piece by wondering what use the answers are when the crucial question is the very nature of Man.

The American writer Richard Ford looks at the way terrorist atrocities change the way we use language.

What, for instance, does it mean to be "at war" with an Islamic State which is not a state and had nothing to do with Islam? The battle will be "pitiless," according to the French president. What does that do to our ordinary conception of pity?

"Carnage", "security", "barbarity", "comprehension" and "shock" are other words subtly changed by recent events.

To say nothing of the term "religion". Ford says religion is not part of the debate, that Friday's attacks are part of a blind determination to win political power by means of organised crime, psychopathic violence and a ghastly pseudo-Islam.

Richard Ford also reminds us of Salman Rushdie's observation in a different context in the 1990s that, in racially divided America, the struggle between Blacks and Whites was a war between two visions of reality. The two communities literally saw the world in different terms. They had to find a new, shared vocabulary before the process of reconciliation could even begin.

We can all contribute, says Ford, by being aware of the words we use and the worlds they conceal.

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