Terrorism and French train timetables

Nine young French people have been arrested under suspicion of terrorist activities. Quote of the day via Georgio Agamben as translated and circulated via the nettime email list.

SDAT officers discovered “documents containing detailed information on railway transportation, including exact arrival and departure times of trains.” In plain French: an SNCF train schedule.

Agamben’s critic of the arrests, printed in Libération (19 Nov) under the headline ‘Terrorisme ou tragi-comédie’, begins thus:

On the morning of November 11, 150 police officers, most of which belonged to the anti-terrorist brigades, surrounded a village of 350 inhabitants on the Millevaches plateau, before raiding a farm in order to arrest nine young people (who ran the local grocery store and tried to revive the cultural life of the village). Four days later, these nine people were sent before an anti-terrorist judge and “accused of criminal conspiracy with terrorist intentions.” The newspapers reported that the Ministry of the Interior and the Secretary of State “had congratulated local and state police for their diligence.” Everything is in order, or so it would appear. But let’s try to examine the facts a little more closely and grasp the reasons and the results of this “diligence.”

First the reasons: the young people under investigation “were tracked by the police because they belonged to the ultra-left and the anarcho autonomous milieu.” As the entourage of the Ministry of the Interior specifies, “their discourse is very radical and they have links with foreign groups.” But there is more: certain of the suspects “participate regularly in political demonstrations,” and, for example, “in protests against the Fichier Edvige (Exploitation Documentaire et Valorisation de l’Information Générale) and against the intensification of laws restricting immigration.” So political activism (this is the only possible meaning of linguistic monstrosities such as “anarcho autonomous milieu”) or the active exercise of political freedoms, and employing a radical discourse are therefore sufficient reasons to call in the anti-terrorist division of the police (SDAT) and the central intelligence office of the Interior (DCRI). But anyone possessing a minimum of political conscience could not help sharing the concerns of these young people when faced with the degradations of democracy entailed by the Fichier Edvige, biometrical technologies and the hardening of immigration laws.

As for the results, one might expect that investigators found weapons, explosives and Molotov cocktails on the farm in Millevaches. Far from it. SDAT officers discovered “documents containing detailed information on railway transportation, including exact arrival and departure times of trains.” In plain French: an SNCF train schedule. But they also confiscated “climbing gear.” In simple French: a ladder, such as one might find in any country house. (Full text here)

‘Terrorism’ has indeed become a catch-all term, the ultimate contemporary floating signifier which can be fixed to any grouping or individual whose activities are deemed undesirable and/or threatening.

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