Commentary: France is going crazy with the fight against terrorism - what next?
"We aren't Charlie and we never will be, you band of whores. You reap what you sow," is what one of four underage students in France posted to Facebook, according to the Czech News Agency, before they were arrested on 22 January by French Police.
The message was discovered and reported to the management of a school in the town of Meaux, about 40 kilometers east of Paris, by a fellow student. Police released the youths after interrogating them.
Next week they will come before a court, where they will probably be charged with "defending terrorist deeds through a public communications network." They face up to three and a half years in prison if convicted, but the French media are speculating that they will probably receive suspended sentences.
The arrest of high school students for posting to Facebook is part of the reaction of French Police, politicians and secret services to the terrorist attack on the Parisian editorial offices of the humorist weekly Charlie Hebdo. Islamists murdered 12 people during that attack.
More people died in a subsequent attack on a shop in another part of Paris later that week. While police alertness in France is understandable, and the tensions in society are intense, these reports of a wave of arrests for "supporting terrorists" are intimidating.
It is hard to imagine where these "anti-terrorist" actions will stop. Teenagers are being arrested and may go to prison for their Facebook remarks.
Their fellow student turned them in - bravo! Will police and politicians be publishing a list of banned words now, or samples of permitted expressions?
Will everyone snoop on everyone else, just to be sure, to show their good will and nobility? Will everyone stop trusting everyone else because provocations by secret agents keep multiplying?
Are we no longer allowed to write "I am not Charlie" on Facebook? Is that already a defense of terrorism?
Or does it only become a defense of terrorism when you add "and I never will be"? Where is our protection from provocations - agents spot a young Muslim immigrant, contact him pretending to be jihadists, hold a conversation with him in a café about preparing a terrorist attack, and before he can do anything or actually make preparations, they arrest and charge him for planning mass murder.
Where is the borderline between uncontrolled manipulation, the arbitrariness of the secret services, and real protection from dangerous groups of potential terrorists and radicals? Does it consist of censoring Facebook and turning each other in?
That is an image of a society that is far from our celebrated democracy and freedom of speech, and far from the statements made by European politicians that, even after these terrorist attacks, we must preserve European freedoms and must not succumb to fear of terrorists. So: I am not Charlie, and I believe that to arrest people for making that remark and others like it is a sign of arbitrary policing and the birth of totalitarianism.
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