When I first heard about the Paris attacks today, I was listening to the radio and the hourly news headlined with the attacks: 18 dead the report said, multiple attacks, explosions and shootings. When I arrived home for a late lunch, I tweeted out the BBC article on the attack: 120+ dead.
I feared the worst and that fear has, unfortunately, been realized.
My second thought was that France seems to be a more viable target for these extremists than any other country outside of the Middle East. What is it about France that draws these kinds of attacks? I’m not just thinking of the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier in January of this year, but the subsequent attacks:
JANUARY JUNE Lyon – a lone wolf attacker beheaded his boss and tried to blow up a gas plant;
AUGUST Oignies/Arras – train attack foiled by passengers;
NOVEMBER Toulon – plot to attack France’s largest naval base foiled (and now I wonder whether the Toulon plot is potentially linked to these Paris attacks).
Is it because of the significant Muslim population (4.7 million, 7.5% of the French population – Pew Research Centre)? But then, Germany parallels France in these statistics. Is it because of some de facto internal socio-cultural practice stemming from France’s colonization of northern Africa? Is there resentment against old colonizers? Is it because many individuals amongst France’s minorities are not, or have not, integrated into French society and live in certain ghetto-ized arrondissements around Paris, and in ghettos in other major French cities?
It is easy in these kinds of moments to experience a knee jerk reaction to such atrocities and to wave the anti-migrant, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim banner, and brush all Muslims – and I would even add all people who are from the Middle East and look Muslim (as there are many non-Muslim refugees and migrants from the Middle East) – with the same brush of tarring and feathering. We cannot. I do believe that, on some level, that is exactly the kind of reaction that these kinds of ISIL/ISIS militants look to solicit from the West; a racial reaction would help the ISIL/ISIS propaganda machines justify any negative actions carried out on the West.
But that sentiment of Islamophobia is for a different time and place (for an good overview of Muslims in France, see Adam Taylor’s article from the Washington Post on the topic).
My question still remains: why France? Why not the United States, the more obvious target for a terror plot? Is it a simple matter of security, and that US intelligence and security are more robust than that of France? What is the disconnect in France that elicits these kinds of attacks? There will be more attacks, and I wonder whether these brazen attacks will inspire other cells in other countries to do something similar.
It’s funny, funny in a peculiar and frustrating kind of way: about a year ago, after the attack at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, someone plastered a pro Taliban, Alghaeda (Al Qaeda), Hamas, Bokuharam (Boko Haram), Hezbollah, Ekhvan Moslemin (Muslim Brotherhood), and ISIS poster all over my apartment complex. I notified the RCMP but was essentially told that this incident was irrelevant and meant nothing. In the light of these attacks in France, I do wonder whether more effort should be made in investigating these kinds of incidents, because who is to say that the perpetrators of today’s Paris attacks didn’t start out by plastering their arrondissement with similar posters?
Anyhow, why France?