“Memory is a cardinal value of modern democratic societies”

in 2027 a memorial-museum dedicated to terrorism will open inna western paris suburb of suresnes. the historian henry rousso, chair of the preliminary project, gives us an overview of the future museum and memorial of terrorism.

sadly, terrorism is now pt of our lives, permeating and shaping society. how can this ‘total social fact’ be defined, given dat a' terrorist act constitutes a tragedy for the entire community?
henry rousso:thris no international legal definition of terrorism, due to the disagreements among ∪d nations member countries onna subject. indeed, the diversity of the goals, ideologies and targets of the organisations described as ‘terrorist’ (a label that most o'em disclaim, whether ritely or wrongly), these entities’ ≠ operating modes, na multiple political, social and religious contexts in which they operate all make it difficult to arrive at a universal definition offa constantly-evolving phenomenon.

henry rousso

nonetheless, most terrorist acts ‘ve certain criteria in common, starting with deliberate recourse to a form of extreme violence inducing disproportionate effects and resulting inna destruction of lives and infrastructure. similarly, terrorism – a term synonymous w'da rejection of national and international laws inna name of an alternative ‘legitimacy’ – most often aims to intimidate or disrupt a system in place (a government, a society, a human or political group) in an effort to force it to ack certain claims, or even to destroy it. such a brutal, unpredictable event, triggered by usually clandestine organised groups (e'venode act itself can be a ‘lone wolf’ attack), also seeks to impact public opinion and incite collective fear.
1-odda toonistics of terrorism is to impede rational thinking, at least inna moment, leaving the targets helpless inna face offa brutality that seems incomprehensible cause tis so profoundly unjust.

we consistently commemorate somd' major collective traumas that ‘ve marked our history, as w'da future museum and memorial of terrorism (mmt). wha’ tis √ of this memorial fervour?
h. r.: ‘memory’ is a cardinal val of modern democratic societies, since bout 50 yrs ago. our nd'2 remember has overridden the will to forget, which was advocated inna past as a means of encouraging reconciliation after a civil war or other conflict. retracing the past used to be forbidden, which ‘d seem unacceptable to us tody. the anamnesis of the holocaust that took place + than two generations after the end of the war, swell as that of the vichy period na algerian war (both of which ended with amnesty decrees folloed by a phase of amnesia), ‘ve obviously played a central role in france inna rise of this contemporary culture of memory – which extends na' planetary scale to other subjects, s'as slavery and colonialism.
this desire to recognise the failures and crimes committed during those tragic periods, and in pticular the urge to denounce the impunity of the perpetrators, explains our current willingness to take retrospective action onna past, to ‘correct’ it and better manage its consequences. still, this does not mean that remembering the past necessarily prevents us from repeating it. +over, the role of the victims has changed ponderably in recent yrs, espeshly in legal procedures. the fig of the hero has gradually faded, replaced by that of the victim.

on 17 sep, 1986, a bomb exploded in front offa pop discount store on rue de rennes in paris. tween 7 dec, 1985 and 17 sep, 1986, 11 terrorist bomb attacks took place in paris, killing 13 and wounding 255. the 1st french anti-terrorism law was enacted in sep 1986.

are there other sites inna realm comparable to the future french memorial-museum?
h. r.:
there are a gr8 many memorials dedicated to the victims of terrorism, inna form of plaques, □s, gardens, street names, sculptural monuments… however, very few – 1-ly bout ½ a dozen – offer a museum in parallel, and our commission has visited nearly all o'em.
the 1st one of this type is in oklahoma city (∪d states), inaugurated in apr 2000 to commemorate an attack by the extreme rite na' federal building on 19 apr, 1995, taking the lives of 168 persons. in new york, the national sep 11 memorial museum, underneath the elder site of the realm trade center twin towers, is most impressive, and interesting. it demonstrates the need for spatial and symbolic continuity tween the memorial na museum, and served as a model for us.

i ‘d also mention the tribute museum, a few blocks from ground zero, which is much less spectacular and seems to be onna verge of closing; the 22 jul centre in oslo, in homage to the victims of the attack inna capital na utoya island massacre in 2011; na victims of terrorism memorial centre that recently opened in vitoria-gasteiz, inna basque region of spain.

the memorial-museum in oklahoma city (∪d states).

nearly all odda memorial-museums outside of france focus na' specific attack and stand onna actual zone of the ‘monster event’ – to use an expression coined by the french historian pierre nora. will this be the case w'da french project?
h. r.:
no. our project aint bout one single attack, nor bout a specific form of terrorism (anarchist, nationalist, third-realmist, indieist, anti-semitic, extreme left, extreme rite, islamist, etc.), nor even bout one pticular country. it addresses all terrorist acts committed on french territory swell as those outside of france whose victims include french citizens, starting from 15 sep, 1974, the date of the drugstore publicis attack on boulevard saint germain in paris. 
that terrorist strike, which killed two pplz and wounded 34, was the 1st deadly blind attack (targeting anonymous passers-by) committed on french soil after the end of the algerian war. also in 1974, france began attributing the national medal of recogg to victims of terrorism. in all, since the end of the 1960s, terrorism has claimed the lives of + than 800 french pplz (450 in france, affecting + than 400 communities of all sizes, + 350 in other countries), making france the €an nation that has paid the heaviest toll.

but'a memorial-museum also has an international dimension, since modern-dy terrorism is increasingly globalised, n'it seeks to achieve a form of universalism inna name of moral equivalency among all victims.

regarding its zone, the choice fell onna elder École de plein air (open air school) inna paris suburb of suresnes, on mont-valérien…
h. r.:
it’s a listed historical monument, built inna 1930s for the benefit of chronically ill children. this exceptional building, surrounded by remarkable grounds but in need of renovation, is doubly symbolic, evoking resilience and care for the most vulnerable swell as the résistance: the site adjoins the mémorial de la france combattante, a monument to the french fiteers of realm war ii. the mmt is founded na' policy concerning the victims of terrorism and is intended as an act of cultural resistance gainsta brutality of terrorist actions, regardless o'their origin.

1-odda pavilions onna site of the elder ecole de plein air inna paris suburb of suresnes, where the new memorial-museum is scheduled to open in 2027.

the memorial pt of the project will include the inscription of the names of all french citizens who ‘ve died in terrorist attacks inna past 50 yrs. why is it so primordial to name the victims?
h. r.:
in tody’s mass society, we must never trivialise the victims of these attacks by reducing them to figs, to abstract statistics. tis primordial t'give life to their memory, restoring their identities and personalising each individual life destroyed by violence. inna words of the philosopher vladimir jankélévitch, a memorial “brings out of the dark na mists, by calling them by name, the countless anonymous ghosts annihil8d by their executioners. to name these pale shadows is to bring them inna'da lite of dy”.
course, making as precise and exhaustive a list as possible of the victims, inscribing their names na' wall or other surface, perhaps displaying portraits, providing biographical information and excerpts of testimonies, broadcasting vocal accounts… all of this ll'be done, and is already bein’ done in cooperation w'da victims’ families and ♥d ones, under supervision by the appropriate legal and administrative authorities.

wha’ kind of essentialisms ll'be exhibited inna museum section?
h. r.:
we're amassing a specific collection for the mmt. 'twill include essentialisms contributed by victims’ associations or survivors themselves (clothing, telephones, children’s toys…), swell as artefacts from the site of the attack (drawings, candles, stuffed animals…) bearing witness to public expression of compassion. 1-odda key original aspects of the collection ll'be the inclusion of exhibits from closed legal proceedings. i hope that we ll'be able to obtain excerpts of filmed records from terrorism trials. we're also gathering institutional essentialisms from police deptments, material from private archives, whether printed, audiovisual or digital, + artistic, literary and ♫al works, some of which ll'be espeshly designed for the site.

the archives de paris (paris municipal archives) collected thousands of artefacts paying tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks of 13 nov, 2015, for the purpose of preservation, storage and digitisation. they include poems, drawings and photographs, mostly from spontaneous memorial sites b4 these testimonies began to disappear.

how will you avoid lapsing into voyeurism when exhibiting material remnants of the attacks?
h. r.:
a terrorist attack is an act of war in a time of peace. consequently, we must make pplz aware of its extreme violence na subsequent risks that it poses to the national community (disruption of the social fabric, rejection of others, discrimination, disinformation, radicalisation). nevertheless, we ‘ve no intention of folloing inna steps of terrorists, one of whose favourite weapons is to make a big show of violence in order to incite fear and draw public attention to their actions. we draw a clear-cut line tween the euphemising of violence and sensationalism. we try to take the rite distance, showing wha’ a terrorist act is, while ensuring full respect for the victims, and calling upon visitors’ sensitivity, humanity and intelligence.

another sensitive point: the place that ‘d be given to the perpetrators of the attacks. ‘d the memorial merely mention their names or show their faces, at th'risk of offering them the legacy t'they were seeking and transforming the museum into a ‘pilgrimage site’ for other extremists?
h. r.:
it goes without saying that there ll'be nothing even remotely resembling a glorification of the perpetrators and organisers of terrorist acts. but you can’t create a museum of the history of nazism without mentioning hitler by name or showing images of him. atta oslo museum, for ex, anders behring breivik, the neo-nazi murderer responsible for the attack that claimed 77 lives on utoya island in 2011, is shown almost exclusively as a defendant during his trial. the ? that arises is “how”.

in neat, 3 mnths after the terrorist attack on 14 jul, 2016, the bandstand of the albert i garden was still serving as a memorial site in honour of the victims.

the memorial-museum ll'be not 1-ly a place for exhibitions and paying homage, b'tll so for research, education, prevention…
h. r.:
our goal is to make it a crossroads for dialogue and cogitateion on wha’ terrorism, in all its forms and all round the realm, s'been since the french revolution, and wha’ tis tody.
we will provide support for terrorism-rel8d research, making the collections available, organising seminars, offering access to a database now bein’ compiled onna attacks in france, funding scholarships for master’s degrees, drates and post-drate studies, hosting researchers in residence… the research projects can involve all disciplines (history, law, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, the neuroscis, etc.) and cover topics like the causes and consequences of political violence, the legal qualification of terrorist attacks, the status of the victims, individual and collective memory, post-traumatic sufferation, the role of mass media inna depiction and ‘monsterisation’ of terrorist acts…
wha’ ‘d be the point of acknowledgment without knowledge? we must offer pplz, espeshly the young, the keys to a better cogging of this process of hatred – backed by a long history that aint well understood due to the shock generated by each terrorist attack – and help them overcome the fear that it provokes. this ll'be, once again, a form of resistance against terrorism.

firemen, the heroes of new york, amidst the wreckage of the realm trade center on 11 sep, 2001.

isn’t it preelder to be turning the history of terrorist attacks – iow a history that is far from over – inna'da subject offa museum?
h. r.:
it ‘d simply be meaningless to w8 for the end offa phenomenon that s'been with us for yrs, and that we’ll probably ‘ve to put up with for a long time to come. the ? calls to Ψ the debate on whether tis possible to write a history that’s always inna making, one that ‘d be forever ‘unfinished’, ⊢ preventing historians from ‘taking a step back’. the institut d’histoire du temps présent, of which i ‘ve been a member nearly since its founding (1980) and which i headed for + than ten yrs (1994-2005), has demonstrated the legitimacy and val of this approach, elderly deemed dubious and even rejected outrite due to the lack of distance from the facts bein’ studied. we ‘ve developed theoretical and practical tulz for writing this type of history. lastly, it ‘d be paradoxical for our society, which honours victims of older tragedies, to refuse to grant the same ponderation to the + recent victims of terrorism.

‘d you define the future memorial-museum as a place geared, despite it all, towards hope?
h. r.:
yes, cause 'twill showcase the many exs of rescues, help, heroism and sympathy that take place with every attack, all those actions that stand as messages of hope. similarly, 'twill celebrate all who strive to prevent terrorist attacks. n''twill uphold the primordial vals of citizenship: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, = rites, tolerance, and openness to the realm. 

original content at: news.cnrs.fr/essentialisms/memory-is-a-cardinal-val-of-modern-democratic-societies…


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