November 16, 2015
As all the world knows by now, the French capital was attacked this past Friday by teams of ISIS terrorists. So far, the death toll is at 129 people- but likely to grow as more than 300 were wounded – some still in critical condition. In the late hours of Friday, November 13th, ISIS terrorists attacked multiple locations including Paris’s Stade de France where an international match was being held, a rock concert at the Bataclan Theatre where at least 89 people were executed and multiple cafes where people were gunned down as they sat outdoors.
This is Paris’s second terror attack this year – this past January, seventeen people were killed in a terror attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, followed by the murder of four Jews in a Kosher deli. This time around, the mood is different. The last time, there was bravery, defiance and unity in the expression of the French population. This time, the mood is more jittery – more nervous. It is taking the people longer to rally and wrap their heads around the magnitude of this attack. It has also become clear that the threat and actions of radical Islamic terrorism isn’t going away – and few are prepared to deal with it – or even understand it.
Over the last two days, I visited many of the sites where the violence occurred and talked to people about what happened.
Javier, a Spaniard who came to Paris for work says that it’s not all about religion – that there’s a tinge of revenge from those in the Muslim population who feel marginalized due to the lack on integration into French society – and maybe some revenge for colonialism in general.
A young Muslim girl in a local bakery was grief stricken over these recent events (she is of Algerian origin and has lived in Paris since age 2). As a Muslim she’s not sure what to think. As she expressed to me – she doesn’t want the motivation for these attacks to be about her faith. She wants her faith to be peaceful. When I asked her if her religion was indeed a religion that consistently and clearly promoted peace and tolerance, her answer was simply, “I want it to be…” She then expressed her desire for Islam go through a reform – a cleaning up of their beliefs and how those beliefs are lived out.
Outside the Bataclan Theatre, where the largest number of victims were killed, I spoke with Anita and Quentin – a young couple clearly emotionally affected by these events. They seemed lost – to not know what to think about what was happening in their country. They were worried that it might continue to happen.
But outside of the commentary of citizens, there are facts about this situation that cannot be ignored. I recently saw that on Facebook, one of the most common “reactions” to these attacks was “bewilderment.” Bewilderment? All that tells me is that people haven’t been paying attention. Threats from ISIS are not new. More than 900 people with French passports have gone to fight with ISIS in Syria – and can easily return to Europe. France has Europe’s largest Muslim population – and many of them are not happy – they are, as Javiar from Spain told me, neither felling fully French nor fully Arab. They are ripe to be recruited by an organization like ISIS that can promise them a clear identity and purpose. No one should be bewildered about what’s happening. ISIS has not be quiet about their plans, the atrocities they are committing in Iraq and Syria or their views about living out their brand of Islam.
The only bewildering part is how France – and the rest of Europe is going to manage to fight an enemy that is already entrenched inside their society. At least for now France is trying to get down to the business of security – in the last 24 hours there have been close to 70 raids and many arrests, all with the intent of trying to get to the bottom of this horrific event. There have also been retaliatory airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria.
But what is France’s next step? What’s their long-term strategy? Many are afraid that if France escalates their response to terror more terror attacks will result. One thing needs to be understood clearly – regardless as to the arguments of the West’s involvement in the Middle East, past colonialism or any other reason that allows the West to “justify” the motivation of radical terrorist (and trust me, some in the West do try to understand and justify the “reason” for terrorism) – the bottom line is this – France was attacked because of who they are – not because of anything they did. And who are they? They are not ISIS. Just ask any of the thousands of Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities that have been expelled, raped, enslaved, tortured or killed by ISIS.