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Paris - fighting terrorism and technology

Over 3 months have passed since the most recent Paris terrorist attacks, and I read with interest that the French Government has extended the state of emergency in Paris until late May. In force since the attacks, the law gives the Government expanded powers, including allowing police to conduct raids and house arrests without court authorisation.

Next to the newspaper article on the state of emergency extension, I then read - almost with raised eyebrows - that a French Government Minister is seeking to legalise the right for workers to ‘disconnect’ from their work emails.

Eiffel Tower, Paris. Photo - Emily Brewer

Juggling a fight against terrorism simultaneously with a fight against the perils of technology and always being ‘on’, seems so utterly French. So patriotic and defensive of their country, culture and precious lifestyle with an inherent focus on civil liberties. However, although the state of emergency is purportedly in place to breakdown the terrorist networks and protect citizens from future attacks, the United Nations considers the extension of the laws as ‘disproportionately’ restricting citizens’ civil rights.

Where does the balance between citizen security and freedom to go about your business lie? Some may say the extension of the state of emergency and arguable encroachment on citizens’ rights seems ironic where, in the background, the fight to protect citizens’ rights to have a life outside work is seen worthy of legislating for.

Today, the continued state of emergency demonstrates the Government is not letting up in its ‘war’ on terror, while the majority of its inhabitants appear to go about their daily lives as normally as possible.

Gardens in Paris. Photo - Emily Brewer

What struck me after the attacks on Paris, is the realisation that perhaps we are entering into a global era where terrorism is commonplace and indiscriminate as to borders and geography. It is no longer confined to the traditional conflict ‘hot spots’. To me, a nostalgic idealist, Paris always seemed to exist in its own bubble, a place of romance immune from most of the evils of the world. Deluded I might be, you may say.

It also seemed to be the epitome of a city that never changes. You step foot off the Eurostar at Gare du Nord, and are transported back into the Paris of yesteryear – the cobbled streets, greying, old beautiful buildings largely unaffected by modern architecture, the quintessential, chic look of the Parisians you pass by, and the cafes and market stalls alongside the Seine.

Along the Seine, Paris. Photo - Emily Brewer

Paris – like its inhabitants - was always self-assured, never cared two hoots what anyone thought of it, and in doing so, fiercely stuck by its art, food, culture and history. It seems to choose which parts of modern culture it wants to accept and adopt, and which social trends and cultural phenomena it rejects. Email and technology, a case in point now.

Its romance lies in the fact you are transported back to Hemingway, back to the many artists that were inspired by the City of Light and back to the fashion houses that took hold of this city.

For me, living in Paris was always a dream – and I was fortunate to fulfil that dream in my 20s. I would spend my time just wandering by foot through the city, absorbing all that it had to offer. An assault on my senses; there was always something to look at, listen to or smell. Safety was never a concern for me and in Paris I felt utterly at ease and constantly in wonder. Its magic got under my skin.

Looking back to the Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, once my home in Paris. Photo - Emily Brewer.

Now, I fear Paris isn’t the same. Has that bubble been burst? Admittedly I sit writing this at the bottom of the world, with no physical proximity to Paris, but arguably its culture and freedoms which it so fiercely protects have been attacked by something so terrifying and unpredictable the city can’t help but be affected.

The thing about these terrorists, this global war on terror, is that there are no geographical fronts we can point to, no battle lines or maps which soldiers can point to. It is simmering beneath us or next to us, and can rear its ugly head any time and anywhere. That is what scares me the most about these atrocities. The anxiety and absolute lack of knowledge about what might be hit next.

We sent troops off to fight in designated locations in World War 1 and 2 and residents in occupied territories or war-torn cities knew generally the physical boundaries limiting the war. Fewer surprises, some may say. War was meant to be conducted under the protections of the Hague Convention – torture if you must, but only on certain conditions. But as terrorists don’t fight for a nation state, they are immune to such international conventions, and they won’t be confined by geographical borders or traditional fighting methods. They are a law unto themselves, and take the concept of ambush to a whole new level – just as Paris experienced as it was ambushed in the extreme.

Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo - Emily Brewer.

So my heart goes out to Paris – a city I have adored forever, and I shake my head wondering where this will end up.

I wonder if the attacks on Paris really have cemented the beginning of a new wave of widespread, global terrorism, with large scale attacks on cities and countries beyond those ‘traditional’ zones of conflict and ideological warfare? But some may say Paris was just another insignificant notch on terrorism’s belt in a world where such attacks are all too frequent – just not in cities like Paris. Too often our minds and mainstream media skim over the constant conflict some countries are exposed to.

The greater question is when and how the international community will develop a united diplomatic and political plan to eradicate this seemingly uncontainable force of terrorism.

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