The French warning system against possible acts of terror, called Vigipirate, is a color-coded plan for raising awareness of the citizenry of France and a program of precautionary activities and policies. Each of the four stages of the alert—yellow, orange, red, and scarlet—offers increased security but also brings into question enduring values in Republican France, including the sovereignty and freedom of each individual, his or her independence from harassment and surveillance, as well as of thoughts and actions. Vigipirate brings into question the continued viability of the “rights of man,” as they were defined more than two centuries ago, but it also calls into question the concept of universalism, as certain people are profiled as possible terrorists and others are not. The rhetoric of safety is a convenient cover for serious challenges to the French way of life, and it is this rhetoric that is the subject of the essay.

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