Letter from Benjamin
After 3 weeks of tranquility, a time of reflection and intensive reading about the things related to this “affair”, I have begun to write this letter.
I was released from Fresnes prison around 3 weeks ago, a little disorientated. I didn’t expect to be released as quickly in face of what seemed to be a well-organised trap. To regain the open-air and to see the world’s horizon was, of course, a big relief ; you quickly become used to the confines of walls and bars, and they seem to last for centuries instead of two or three weeks. I’m grateful to all the people who fought to free us. Despite the arbitrariness of the legal system, I’m sure that the pressure of support committees, parents, friends, and so on had a weighty impact. I would like to thank you together with my fellow accused, but as you may know, we are forbidden to contact each other on pain of returning to prison.
However, I am certain that this release was due to the advantage of being born white, having had the opportunity of education, having parents and friends from privileged environments. Their mobilization has been more effective than it would have been if I were born somewhere else and came from another background.
I am preoccupied by the fact that two of my friends are still in jail for absurd reasons. Also by the fact that hundreds of people I met during my short detention did not have my privileges. In recent years, French prisons have swallowed up a significant percentage of young people. This section of society, viewed as uneasily assimilated, are constantly harassed, forever condemned, and yet still refuse to enter the ranks of a stifling society. One fact is quite clear when you walk into a prison yard, the vast majority of the prison population come from “problem neighborhoods” and are to a large number of them have been permanently institutionalized. Y0u also notice the incredible number of people imprisoned on a pre-trial basis, often for long periods, in so-called “exceptional” cases. Six, nine months, one, two or three years without any trial and often without any significant evidence. No doubt, it’s more difficult to find people willing to testify to your good behavior and to offer credible guarantees that you will appear for trial when you come from Villiers-le-Bel, Aubervilliers or Bagneux [translator’s note: working-class areas in Paris’ suburbs with many migrants], when your parents are viewd as “foreigners” and don’t master the language of magistrates and the medias, or when they don’t have a stable and well-recognized profession.
But there is no call for despair, solidarity really exists inside. The criminal laws and politics of the current governement is building a time bomb. The more they pack people in jail, the more people’s paths will come together building a bridge between environments which are consciously separated outside.
The proximity of politics, police and media reactions (this triangle works so well, why not fuse it officially?) between Tarnac’s and theaffair of Villiers-le-Bel is justified for several reasons [tn: in Villiers-le-Bel, there were riots after the death of two young people hit by a police car. Riots were followed by a big mediatised police operation]. November 2005 riots, demos against the CPE [tn: “Contract Première Embauche” a new more flexible employment law which was revoked in 2006 due to street protests], the presidential election, Villiers-le-Bel, university reform : two disjointed parts of the youth were together feeding the governement’s paranoia.
The governement’s reaction on both sides was similar. On the one hand, the “fight against youth gangs” justifies the repression after the riots. On the other hand, the forging of a so-called “anarcho-autonomous” movement of “ultra-left” groups is being used to scare people who were beginning to revolt during social movements. In both cases, an extended policy of communication demarcates the contours of an “inner enemy” and ends in media-hyped police raids. Inordinate shows of force, media frenzies, imprisonments. In addition to those people incarcerated since the riots of november 2005, five people are still in jail after the operation in “Villiers-le-Bel” and are still awaiting trials which are not coming, for a lack of evidence.
Now it’s our turn. But the hunting of “autonomous anarchists” began a year ago. Since december 2007, at least 6 people have been taken in for questioning by “anti-terrorist” jurisdictions for supposed crimes which had hitherto never come under such jurisdictions. The net is tightening : no holds are barred.
The support committees have already widely explained how much the use of anti-terrorist tools represents a significant change in the procedures of the government and its means of “managing” dissent. Some scenarios already seen in several countries during the past few years (USA, UK, Germany, Italy…) are now being heavily pushed in France, ushering in a regime where the exception is the rule. Most of the times these procedures have nothing to do with “terrorism”, whichever definition you choose to give to this word. They follow the age-old logic of “repressing one to frighten a hundred”. In the past, “a few” would have been hung at the entrance of the city to give an example.
In our case, it quickly became clear that the “case of the SNCF sabotages” was only a useful excuse to unveil an operation of communication and of “preventive neutralisation” that was planned a long time ago (since Michèle-Alliot Marie became the minister of interior affairs). The speed of “Operation Taïga” and the almost total absence of material evidence in the file presented against us, even after searches and extended interrogations, easily reveals the lies of the police. Yet there has been important efforts to try to spice up this dull story. A “small isolated group devoted to clandestinity”, an “uncontested leader”, his “right-hand”, his “lieutenants”, some “friendly relationships” created in the village out of “pure strategy”. Yet none of it, thankfully, was enough to prevent people from believing “more in what they live than in what they see on TV”.
Once the questions of the participation or non-participation to the “criminal damage” on the SNCF cables had been answered by each individual, what was left was this vast gaseous accusation of “criminal conspiracy linked to a terrorist network”. It is now the only charge hanging over the accused, including myself.
This accusation is based on a body of disparate information and suppositions, gathered by the intelligence services, but which only a highly imaginative police prose was able to articulated in such a unilateral fashion. The friendly relations, each one political in it’s own way, become without any doubt organizational affiliations or even hierarchies. A series of encounters, the participation of a few in a demonstration, the presence of some during the social movements of the past few years, become the proof of the ’political’ (in the most classical and literal meaning of the term) identity of a “group” that can be isolated as a (cancerous?) “cell”. This is a complete untruth, and involves a certain number of serious misinterpretations of what we have carried in diverse ways for the past years.
The offense of “conspiracy” allows to include at once the entire existence of the people targeted, and everything can therefore become part of the accusation : litterature, spoken languages, skills, connections with people from other countries, mobility, lack of cell phones, breaking with one’s plan of career or one’s social background, romance, etc.
The use of these “anti-terrorist” tools is in the end just represents the agressivity of a power that knows it’s threatened from all sides. It is not about being indignant. It’s more important not to be fooled by this operation of political police. It is only the attempt from those in power to communicate to the social structure their own paranoia. This paranoia might not be completely irrational.
A lot of things have been said about this essay called “the Coming Insurrection” (*) (« l’insurrection qui vient ») and everybody has his/her own hypothesis in order to say WHO is behind this “invisible committee” signature. This question is only interesting from a strictly police point of view. The choice of anonymity which has been made needs to be seen, in my view, not as a particular paranoia of the authors (even if today it would be one hundred times more justified), but as an attachment to an essentially collective speech. Not the speech of an “authorial collective” that could be counted, but a speech forged in the vagaries of a movement where thought would not be ascribed to one individual or another as an author.
This book sparks off a lot of disagreement, even disapproval, including among us, who have nonetheless made the effort to read and understand it. It seems to me that it the object of political writing it to put what needs to be discussed at the highest priority, making it unavoidable, even if it means being raw and forgoing nuances.
All those who, in addition, pretend to know WHO is the book’s authors are purely and simply lying, or taking their hypotheses for garanted.
Recent “readings” of this book, in particular the police and some armchair criminologists, question the “radicality” of the matter. This “radicalism” is thrown back to us as an identity characteristic, even as a charge which is closely admitted. I don’t consider myself particulary radical, with the meaning of being ready to agree acknowledgements, thoughts and acts (what nobody unfortunely does or has done for a long time). On the contrary, the situation is radical and even more and more eager. It determines diffused radicalisation movements, which are not under some vague small group dependance. In my every day life at work (in my grocery or at the bar) or when I was in prison, I discuss, I listen to what is being said, is being thought, felt, and I sometimes feel quite moderate in regard to the anger which is raising up all over the map. This government is whithout any doubt right to be afraid of losing social situation control, but we will not serve its preventive terror cam paign, because the wind is about to changing. It comes from Mediteranian.
There would still be a lot of things to say, doubts to clear, manipulations to thwart, but this is just the beginning. Thus my position is in agreement with the ones of the support groups which are flourishing just about everywhere : abandonment of the “terrorist enterprise” and “criminal conspiracy” charges, immediate liberation for Yldune and Julien and all of those who are imprisoned on such charges, to begin with.
The time will come when we will have to settle our scores, for the huge harm that has been done to us, to Tarnac, and admit that is just an additionnal provocation against all those who do not accept the current disastrous situation.