A bootcamp of the willing
Students, office workers, liberal professionals, and entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 40 have decided to dedicate their spring holidays to a military training course at a gendarme camp, in the French city of Toulouse.
After 15 days of intensive training, most of the trainees will join the ranks of the operational reserve to support the security forces.
The number of volunteers has soared in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in France.
“Today, mentalities have evolved. We see it with the young and the not so young, who have decided to give their time to French society and in particular, to protecting the population”, explains Bernard Blondeau, a Lieutenant-Colonel at the Gendarmerie Operational Reserve.
The trainees are given practical workshops and theoretical courses. Those who go on to join the reserve forces can be mobilized to assist the gendarmes (or military police) from 30 to 150 days a year.
Trainee reservist- Philippe Delmas told euronews:
“If something were to happen, I think I would be one of those people who could help others to protect themselves, to intervene if rescuers are needed and that’s what we’re learning today for example.”
Why they joined up
After a 6 am start, the cadets will not stop until 11 pm. But everyone is more than motivated, whether they are reserves, volunteer firefighters or volunteers for associations, it is estimated that one in five young people in France have got involved in a similar cause since the 2015 attacks.
“People do not stop enough to help others anymore.” Adds reserve trainee Adrien Roulet. “We find that here.”
Another cadet, Chloé Chiron sees it as a means to develop a stronger society. She said:
“It is important to have young people who share the same values, French values. It’s very important, since it forges a society, and that’s why we’re here.”
Najib Belkaci told us about his motivations for joining the reserves:
“Those who carried out the attacks were of Maghreb origin. I have my origins and I felt even more targeted because of that, so I wanted to make it clear that we are not all alike, that we do not all think the same way. And if I can give my free-time and help the French, because I am French, then there’s no problem, I’ll give my free time. “
An instructor addressing the trainees announced:
“What happened at the Bataclan, what happened in other places, like in Germany, etc., could happen to you tomorrow. You must also tell yourself one thing and that is that you might not come home tonight, you have to be aware of that.”
At the camp they say that being aware of risks in one’s mind, is not about giving in to fear. Elodie Renaud-Lafage feels that, though unfortunate, it is crucial to learn self defense. She told our reporter:
“Now it’s getting almost psychotic, all this wondering if, around us, there will be more attacks. To think that it’s inside the country, and that it’s imbedded, that all we can do is wait. But unfortunately we have to be able to protect ourselves, and that’s what I want to try to learn today. “
A week after our meeting with the volunteers in Toulouse, another attack occurred on the Champs Elysées in Paris.
It was the latest episode in a series that has changed French people’s everyday lives. The specter of the attacks is ingrained into public life.
Drills in primary schools
Even in primary schools,so-called “intrusion alert exercises“are organised. Children are taught to hide and take cover in drills resembling those from the cold-war era.
A different type of battle to be led
Latifa Ibn Ziaten is leading a different sort of battle. Her son, a parachutist, was the first victim of Mohamed Merah. Merah murdered 7 people in 2012 because they were soldiers or Jewish. Among the victims were three children.
For the last 4 years, Latifa Ibn Ziaten has traveled the length and breadth of France to raise young people’s awareness of French values and of living together. She is President of the Association for Youth and Peace .
Ms Ibn Ziaten announced to a packed lecture hall of young people:
“You know when you’re fragile you’re an easy target for recruiters, and when someone gets a kid they can do whatever they want with them. You can not fall into Daech’s trap today.
Have confidence in yourselves dear students. Because if you have confidence in yourself, I assure you that you will succeed.”
One student asked Latifa:
“Do you think that France has become an Islamophobic country since the attacks?”
“People today are scared. They’re very scared.
We must talk to each other! We need to know one another! And it is up to you, the youth, because you are the future (…)
Because today, France, look, we see it here, this diversity, it is wealth.”
The road to radicalisation
Nehemie Dhabadou, a student in Chartres was particularly affected by Latifa’s message. He offered insight into what life for young people in his neighbourhood can be like, saying:
“I think the advice she gave is important. I always take the example of my own neighbourhood, where we see that there are many people who stop their studies early after four years of secondary school, because they think that, given their situation … in school it didn’t work out, so they prefer to stop now.”
Nehemie added: “They look for a job, they end up not finding one. They turn to drugs, which often leads them to prison. They can end up becoming terrorists like she said. And it touched me because I was almost in that situation, I nearly fell into that, but with the help of my parents, I escaped it.”
Another student at the same school, Julian Macé, told euronews:
“There is always hope within us, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s there, it is still hidden at the bottom of our hearts … And one day, or another it’ll reappear and we’ll be strong. Somehow we’ll all be together.”
“Who can give hope to France? It is society; And society can give its light. Because the state will not advance alone” Latifa Ibn Ziaten adds.
“There are a lot of people who are responsible, whether it’s the state, or the city council, whether it’s families or it’s schools, society, the media … Everyone has a responsibility to children today. Because a child does not become a delinquent like that all alone. They are not born delinquents, they were not born terrorists, no. Just like all children.”