The display of muscle by a government likely to face mounting questions about its failure to prevent the killings recalled the mood in the United States after the September 11 attacks, when the authorities embarked on a broad front of measures to tighten security and provide legislation for more intrusive surveillance.
The French response played into an emerging and potentially divisive debate across Europe that pits civil liberties campaigners against the demands of security officials who cite the attacks as evidence of an urgent need to introduce stronger powers to monitor suspects. And it comes as a time when the United States is engaged in intense soul-searching, touched off in part by the release of a searing Senate report on the torture of terrorism suspects, over whether it turned itself into a garrison state after September 11, 2001.
Seeking to reassure jittery citizens, the French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said Monday that 10,000 soldiers would be deployed by Tuesday evening, in what he called “the first mobilization on this scale on our territory.”
The military deployment reflected the country’s readiness to commit its armed forces to resist Islamic militants within and beyond its borders. French aircraft have joined the American-led air campaign in Iraq, and roughly 3,000 French soldiers are deployed in Africa in efforts to counter extremist groups in countries like Chad and Mauritania.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls spoke of new legislation to enhance surveillance powers to be readied “in three or four months” as part of what he “an exceptional response” to the attacks. He said there had been a major increase in the number of French people traveling to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist movements — a source of major concern, along with the power of the Internet to spread radical messages, for the authorities.
Indeed, one of the attackers last week, Amedy Coulibaly, said in a video on the Internet after his death that he had acted in the name of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. His video seemed to seek to emulate the visual templates established by the Islamic State in depictions of beheadings.
Significantly, though, the French prime minister, quoted in Le Monde, stopped short of endorsing a French version of the Patriot Act, reflecting his country’s longstanding aversion to what has been depicted as overly draconian American measures to protect national security.
Those concerns, however, predate last week’s attacks, which have forced France to contemplate its identity in an era when its commitment to personal liberty is challenged by its adversaries and when terrorism is increasingly defined as a homegrown threat by radicalized members of Europe’s largest Muslim community.
“The very idea of a war on terrorism is worrisome,” the journalists Jacques Follorou and Franck Johannès wrote in Le Monde. “For the law, there is nothing worse than these moments of intense unanimity, this wave of emotion that submerges rationality.” Once laws are enacted, it is difficult to reverse them, they wrote.