Last week I was in Paris and was struck by the fraught state of the world, including underlying tensions between Muslim and Non-Muslim people and tensions between unions and the government. It seemed that the days of revolutions were not over. When I disembarked, I was immediately struck by the number of military people patrolling the airport with machine guns, a sight that I would continue to see throughout the city. Not since I was in Egypt have I seen the presence of so many armed guards. No doubt this was due to the maximum terror alert the city has been under since the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
To complicate matters further, I discovered that the taxi strike that I had heard was brewing was actually in effect and that streets were being blocked and private chauffeurs were being threatened. Busses were not running either. The terminal was a disaster with snaking lines that must have gotten so long as to prove a fire hazard and/or public safety threat, because just as I reached the head of the line we were told that trains into the city were now free. The day I left, the air traffic controllers had threatened to strike. Fortunately, that one was averted because objections were raised by Ryanair that the French used strikes as the first line of attack instead of a method of last resort and caused chaos for travelers and substantial financial losses for airlines and a compromise was reached.
How did French Unions wield so much power, I wondered? An Economist Article from March 2014 provided the answer. Apparently, under French law, "elected union delegates represent all employees, union members or not, in firms with over 50 staff on both works councils and separate health-and-safety councils." Although the idea of having employees rights be protected sounded appealing to me at first, especially with the way corporations rights are often protected over people's in our country, the level of disruption that strikes cause travelers, who are in essence innocent bystanders, was disconcerting.
Fortunately, when I arrived in Paris, things seemed to run relatively smoothly despite the incredible heatwave that ensued. People lined the canal with picnics and poured into outdoor cafes as the following photos show. Police and military people were an insidious presence that perhaps kept things in check. It saddened me to see this was necessary, but in France this appears to be the current situation. Why, I wondered, was the terrorist threat perceived to be so much worse here?
In an article entitled "Why There’s Tension Between France and Its Muslim Population" in Time Magazine the author observes, "Where the French cherish the neutrality of the public realm, free from any religious symbolism, mainstream Muslim culture embraces public declarations of religiosity through the veil or the call to prayer. France’s cherished codes of secularism clash with the public nature of the practice of Islam, a faith that in Muslim-majority countries is stamped on public life, from politics to laws to the wearing of beards and veils, or breaking for prayers in the middle of the work-day." Since the attack in January, Islamaphobic acts in France have increased by 23.5 percent. It is hard for me to imagine that becoming phobic about a group of people is going to make matters better in any way.
Despite the tensions between the people coexisting in France and the abnormal climate change conditions that ensued while I was there, people went about living their daily lives as normally as possible with the usual French joie de vivre–especially in the Bastille section where I was staying.
After I left the canal, I strolled back by the Paris Opera on the Place de la Bastille and saw the crowds congregating there beneath the full moon. It was an odd combination of bustling and repose, as some people bicycled, ran or passed through the Place, while others sat on steps or in Cafes.
Paris was still a great place to visit. Good luck getting in or out though, especially in the height of tourist season.