Paris on Friday (Nov. 13) night suffered a series of simultaneous assaults, which left at least 129 people dead and around 350 wounded. They included a mass shooting at a concert hall, several shootings at bars and restaurants, and several bomb detonations, including more than one near France’s national stadium, where a soccer match between the French and German national teams was in progress. It was a brutal attack intended to sow mayhem and terror.
According to the Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins, the attackers were all armed with heavy weaponry and suicide vests. Their assault began at 9:20 p.m. Friday, when one of the attackers detonated a suicide bomb outside the gates of the soccer stadium on the northern outskirts of Paris. It ended at 12:20 a.m. Saturday when the authorities stormed a concert hall, the Bataclan. One attacker there was killed; two others detonated suicide vests.
According to officials in France and Belgium, 3 of the seven suicide bombers killed in the Paris attacks were French citizens of which 2 of them had been living in the Brussels area and the other in a suburb of Paris. Three other assailants presumably had false passports – one from Syria and two from Turkey. We are also informed that two rented cars from Belgium were used for the attacks and that an eighth assailant might have escaped.
A day earlier on Thursday, in central Beirut – the stronghold for the Hijbullah – 43 persons were killed and 230 wounded in twin suicide attacks, apparently caused by Daesh (an Arabic acronym for ISIS/L) supporters. [As usual, the western media barely mentioned the carnage in Beirut.] On Thursday US drone attack in Raqqa had also hit the Daesh positions that may have killed its intended target – the so-called Jihadi John.
Was the Paris attack a revenge? I doubt it.
The French casualties included people of all faiths. The assaults came as France, a founder member of the U.S.-led coalition waging air strikes against Daesh, was on high alert for terrorist attacks, raising questions about how the attacks were able to occur.
President Francois Hollande called the attacks an “act of war” carried out by Daesh. In a live address on Saturday morning in France, Hollande said, “It’s an act of war perpetrated by a terrorist army, Daesh, against France, against a free country.” “These attacks were prepared, planned from the outside, with internal complicity.”
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attacks in an apparent statement released on social media in Arabic and French, calling Paris “the capital of prostitution and obscenity,” and said that France’s actions in Syria were a factor in the decision to target the country.
What is surprising is the level of sophistication in planning and execution that had not been seen since the 2008 attacks in Bombay, India. It was the worst attack on a European city since the Madrid bombings in 2004, when 190 people were killed and more than 1,800 wounded, in four coordinated attacks on commuter trains.
The assaults in Paris took place against the background of two major ongoing international crises: the Syrian conflict and the war against Daesh, and the refugee crisis that now besets Europe. No wonder that they have sparked a cycle of blame and outrage that has become bleakly familiar. The possibility that one of the attackers was a Syrian migrant or had posed as one is sure to further complicate the already vexing problem for Europe of how to handle the unceasing flow of people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It could also lend weight to the xenophobic arguments of right-wing extremists like Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front party, who on Saturday held a news conference to declare that “France and the French are no longer safe.” “Islamist fundamentalism must be annihilated, France must ban Islamist organizations, close radical mosques and expel foreigners who preach hatred in our country as well as illegal migrants who have nothing to do here.”
The anti-immigrant right-wing politicians in Europe are already exploiting the tragedy in Paris to create an atmosphere of Islamophobia. Deliberately missing in their narratives is the fact that many of the national soccer players playing for both Germany and France are Muslims, and that some of the victims in the indiscriminate shootings also included Muslims, and that the assailants included native French nationals. Lest we forget, most of the victims of Daesh attacks throughout the Middle East have been Muslims – Sunnis and Shi’as alike. Nor should one be oblivious of the ugly truth that Daesh’s meteoric rise owes it to the civil unrest in Iraq and Syria, and in all likelihood would not have its illegitimate birth had Iraq been not attacked in 2003 in an illegal war by war criminals like Bush and Blaire. Nor should we forget that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have only brought misery and tragedy to the people there and are intrinsically related to the conflicts and the instability of the region.
The right-wing extremists also don’t tell that mass immigration has been a boon to Western Europe. It has brought great economic benefits and helped create societies that are less insular, more vibrant and more cosmopolitan.
Regrettably some western leaders continue to say that Paris attacks were against western values. These are absurd claims since those terrorists did not target symbols of the French state, or of French militarism. They did not even target tourist spots. They targeted, rather, the areas and the places where mainly young, anti-racist, multi-ethnic Parisians (including Muslims) hang out. The cafes, restaurants, bars and music venue that were attacked – Le Carillon, La Belle Equipe, Le Petit Cambodge, and the Bataclan – are in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, areas that, though increasingly gentrified, remain ethnically and culturally mixed and still with a working-class presence.
The other venue attacked was the Stade de France, the national football stadium. France and Germany were playing a game there on Friday night, and French President was in attendance. As noted by Kenan Malik, a British author, the Stade de France, like France’s national football team, also “has great cultural resonance. ‘Les Bleus’ – as the team is known – are seen by many as an embodiment of multicultural France, a team consisting of ‘noir, blanc, beur’ (black, white, Arab) players. It was in the Stade de France that Les Bleus, led by Zinedine Zidane, a French Muslim of Algerian descent, famously won the World Cup in 1998.”
What happened in Paris last Friday and elsewhere across Europe earlier are pure nihilistic activities by terrorists who are angry for a plethora of reasons. Finding connection with religion is a silly exercise. “Such attacks are not about making a political point or achieving a political goal but are expressions of nihilistic savagery, the aim of which is solely to create fear. This is not terrorism with a political aim, but terror as an end in itself,” says Malik.
As of writing this piece, not much is known about the terrorists except that they were speaking about France’s presence in Syria, and that one yelled “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire in a crowded concert hall.
The Qur’an forbids such acts unequivocally saying that “if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew all mankind: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind” (5:32).
Muslims around the world, from religious leaders and politicians to ordinary people, meanwhile, are condemning the attacks.
In an official statement, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said, “In the name of the Iranian people, who have themselves been victims of terrorism, I strongly condemn these crimes against humanity and offer my condolences to the grieving French people and government.”
Indonesian president Joko Widodo condemned the “violence that took place in Paris,” and called for more international cooperation to fight terrorism.
Leaders of Arab states called the attacks immoral and inhumane. Qatar’s foreign minister Khaled al-Attiyah denounced the “heinous attacks,” adding, “these acts, which target stability and security in France are against all human and moral values.” Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah called the attacks “criminal acts of terrorism which run counter to all teachings of holy faith and humanitarian values.” The Saudi foreign ministry called for global cooperation to “root out this dangerous and destructive plague.”
The head of Sunni Islam’s leading seat of learning, Egypt’s Al-Azhar, condemned the “hateful incident” and urged “the world to unite to confront this monster”.
The top religious authority in Saudi Arabia, the council of senior ulama (religious scholars), said the attacks were “contrary to Islam and its principles”.
Bassem Naim, head of the Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas’s Council of International Relations, called the attacks “acts of aggression and barbarity”.
In the social media, a British Imam Mansoor Ahmad Clarke tweeted, “I am a British Imam and I condemn these barbaric attacks. I pray to God for all the victims and their families.”
A British author Ayisha Malik tweeted, “Gunmen were heard shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ but I did the same tonight, in my room, praying for those killed & their families.”
So, what’s next?
After the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris earlier this year, dozens of mosques in France were attacked, and Muslim-owned businesses threatened. Friday’s terror attack may spawn another wave of anti-Muslim violence.
Many of the European states are closing borders ignoring the fact that refugees and migrants are often attempting to flee just the kind of carnage that came to the streets of Paris on Friday. (As rightly noted in a Twitter account, “Over 200,000 people have died in Syria in the past 4.5 years. That’s a Paris attack EVERY SINGLE DAY. That’s what refugees are fleeing.”)
And far from waving migrants across Europe’s borders, the EU has spent 25 years building a fortress against migration, protected by militarised border controls. Still the inevitable happened! Paris imploded.
Mr. Hollande vowed to “be unforgiving” with those who were behind the attacks. It is understandable that in the wake of a horror such as that in Paris, he would like to seek quick solutions. But the problem of terrorism is more complicated than that. If he really wants to address the issue of terrorism he ought to address the complexities, too.
He must start with introspection and recognize that the Paris attacks have been the work of home-grown nihilists who have no respect for anyone’s life – Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Pointing the finger at ‘radical’ Muslims or refugees would not only sidestep the problem of home-grown nihilism, but it would also foment more Islamophobia and anti-immigrant hatred, further polarizing European societies.
Our world leaders must recognize that in our age of information superhighways, it is easy for many youths to get self-radicalized and perceive nihilism as the alternative to deal with the problems that they face and the double-standards that they regularly see. Many are confused and fall prey to propaganda.
Many of the third generation European Muslims, born and raised there, are still considered outsiders in those societies. They are denied citizenship. Many face widespread discrimination and harassment. Rather than getting integrated within the society, European pseudo-multiculturalism has failed them miserably. This needs to be corrected for the greater good of Europe.
The fascist and Islamophobic parties have made major electoral gains by stoking fears about multiculturalism. Mainstream politicians have joined in, too, providing a wrong signal to all.
If we want a world in which human dignity is to be respected and honored, and human rights protected, our world leaders must learn to walk their talk. When they are silent about the horrible terrorist attacks in Turkey (that left approximately 128 people dead and 500 injuredand in October) and Lebanon and are all agog about Paris, they send a wrong message. When they categorize Paris attacks as attacks on ‘civilization’, are we to interpret that the attacks in Beirut and Ankara were not against civilized people? Do French lives matter more than Lebanese, Turkish, Kurdish, and Yemeni ones? Were these not, too, “heinous, evil, vile acts”?” When they define Israel’s war-crimes on Gaza as acts of self-defense that is like mocking history, an insult to the memory of the thousands of dead Gazans, including hundreds of children, killed by the Israeli army. When their drone attacks against targeted individuals (the alleged terrorists) kill mostly unarmed, innocent civilians from Pakistan to Somalia, what they are committing are war crimes. Pure and simple! It is also an act of hypocrisy from a country that claims to be a firm defender of human rights and accountability.
Like many of the other colonial enterprises, the French society is imploding. Like the British and U.S. governments, it used the “civilizing” and “liberalizing” narrative to deny sovereignty, justify the colonization process and build an empire. Under Sarkozy, it defended the fallacy of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to support an illegal war. These “civilizing”, “liberalizing” or “national security” justifications were wrongful foreign policy narratives that have brought extensive suffering and had disastrous and long-term implications not only for the ‘other’ people in ‘liberated’ countries but also their own societies. As Malcolm X would say, the chickens have now come home to roost.
As long as the powerful governments fail to learn from its past mistakes they will likely perpetuate the long-lasting injustice of the area, obviate further atrocities, and prolong the suffering of entire populations. There is no escape from this sad outcome.
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