Here There Be Dragons: Broadcasting Identity and Security in the Parisian Region

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Article published in The Funambulist 10 (March-April 2017) Architecture & Colonialism. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

In 1920s Paris, a police unit was formed with the purpose of cutting down on low level offenses like homelessness, public drunkenness, petty theft, and immigration violations. This unit was called the North African Brigade. As Mathieu Rigouste previously discussed in issue 8 of the Funambulist, in 1961, then police chief Maurice Papon used the newly minted state of emergency legislation to impose a curfew on Algerians in Paris. When FLN activists defied this curfew, police officers murdered them by the dozens. In 2004 the French National Assembly passed a law banning religious garments and symbols in schools and public space. In 2010 the French National Assembly passed a law banning face coverings in public space. Both of these laws disproportionately affected observant Muslim women.

In 1749, François-Jacques Guillotte, a Parisian police officer and encyclopedia enthusiast, submitted Mémoire sur la reformation de la police de France (Treatise on the Reformation of France’s Police) to King Louis XV. In this lengthy police reform proposal he dreamed of a world wherein a person could be found and controlled in the same way that one could find a house. Essentially a menace could be found in the city as easily as you find your way on a map. This would be achieved by every person in all Paris being required to carry some kind of identification. Although, state identification cards don’t exactly work this way, in some ways identity does.

It only takes a look through policing policies past and present, in Paris and far beyond, to see how intimately identity — be it race, gender, religion, or nationality — and security are tied together. In terms of security, identity markers function like an address but instead of revealing where you are in space, they reveal where you are on the spectrum of those who should be protected and those who should be policed. Your identity markers signal to the people around you what kind of protections you should be afforded and what kind of control you should be subjected to, not just at the hands of the state but also by your fellow citizens.

After the 2016 elections in the United States, the triumph of the Republican party, led conservatives and liberals alike to disparage the use of identity politics. Identity politics is coalition building and advocating for political inclusion on behalf of a community. The whole political spectrum is also up in arms either defending or denouncing the January 2017 ban on Muslim immigrants, targeting seven African and Middle Eastern countries. Identity politics are a key element both to enacting and resisting this ban. Security politics, the series of policies and cultural norms that shape our military and policing practices, never fear the threat of elimination. However, without identity politics, there can be no security politics.