We’ve cancelled a number of posts that we were planning to put up about the COP21 conference. We could, I suppose, like the editors of Charlie Hebdo, insist on our fundamental rights to freedom of expression, but I just don’t think this is the time to be making sarcastic remarks about Paris or President François Hollande.
Last night as events unfolded there was a lot of speculation on French TV about whether the COP21 would be cancelled. I saw none of that this morning, no doubt because it would look like giving in to terrorism. However, with a state of emergency declared for the whole of France, the frontiers closed, and presumably all police leave cancelled, it’s hard to see how the security services could cope with such an event in two weeks’ time.
In addition, the first round of regional elections takes place on December 6th, during the conference. Marine le Pen, leader of the National Front is expected to top the poll in the North Region, which includes Calais, and her niece is expected to do the same in Provence-Côte d’Azur, which includes Marseilles, where rival drug gangs massacre each other with kalashnikovs with monotonous regularity. Security and Islamic radicalism were already hot topics before the events of last night.
The Prime Minister has split the ruling Socialist Party by suggesting that where socialists were trailing in the elections they should form an alliance with Sarkozy’s Republicans in order to keep the National Front out, which provoked Martine Aubrey, Mayor of Lille, daughter of Jacques Delors, and unofficial head of the left wing of the socialists to tell him publicly to f*** off.
To get a measure of the possible grave ramifications of this tragedy, it’s worth considering the two main TV news items yesterday before the attacks.
Yesterday morning we saw the Interior Minister announcing tough new measures to cut down on arms trafficking, with images of cupboards full of kalashnikovs seized by customs. The journalist explained patiently that these military weapons which circulate freely in the suburbs (“suburbs” in French is a euphemism for “housing estates with large immigrant populations”) could be used by terrorists – the unspoken subtext being that it wasn’t a problem as long as they were used by rival drug gangs to decimate each other. My reaction was that of any normal person: “WTF are you telling us this for, ten months after Charlie Hebdo?”
The second item was the Minister of Finance ecstatic about the return of economic growth – a stupendous 0.3% in the third quarter, practically guaranteeing 1% for the year. Listening to official advice last night to Parisians to stay indoors, with all schools and universities closed etc, it occurred to me that if every French family cancelled one day’s shopping in the current quarter, that 1% growth would be wiped out overnight.
If these considerations seem trivial compared with what happened in Paris last night (not to mention what happened in Turkey, the Sinai, Beirut, and what is happening in Iraq and Syria day and night) I have one more trivial fact to add.
Like most of France, I spent yesterday evening zapping between TV channels. The main commercial channel and the second regional state channel had both cancelled their programmes and did a good job of covering events. The main state channel France2 (the one that sacked weatherman Philippe Verdier) continued with its normal programme – a debate about climate change. I didn’t watch it.