The “Homeland of Human Rights” put at the test in the terrorist threat era : France, collective memory and counterterrorism

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Bénard, Mathilde
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The impact and instrumentalization of collective memory has been broadly addressed in nationalist/ authoritarian contexts, albeit very much less in democratic ones. France's national identity has been very much constructed on its rich History, and still upholds today –to the world but most of all for its citizens– an image of “Homeland of Human rights” rooted on the 1789 French Revolution. The thesis questions this image as to its origins, validity and perpetration through the years. In the light of this idealized national image, it then addresses the current counterterrorism measures adopted by the French State since 2015 Charlie Hebdo dreadful attacks. Through an analysis of the stakes and implication of the measures taken –an endlessly renewed state of emergency, then a new law in 2017– the study highlights the threat of counterterrorism, and the hypocrisy of that present situation regarding the Homeland of Human rights image. Secondly, the study questions the potential interaction between these two elements: how the image actually appears strengthened by the current situation on the one hand, and how this situation's gravity might be cloaked by the glorious image on the other hand. The thesis in the end highlights the dangerousness of counterterrorism measures in particular, and on a broader picture questions the collective memory process' implications in this context: as it is known to transform past historical events, could it not also have a similar deforming impact on current events? In the French case, the idealized Homeland of Human rights image could then weaken the society's immune system to recognize and fight against threats. Without reaching a conclusive terms, for further studies on the topic would be needed, the French society's –usually famous for their protest culture– passivity towards the current situation indeed seem to support such an impact.
Second semester University: Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
collective memory, human rights, France, terrorism, history, security, liberty