Last night Islamic terrorists attacked the French capital. The French police have currently stated that 127 people have been killed and 180 have been injured, however the number of fatalities is likely to rise. The attack itself was in two locations: central Paris and outside the Stade de France in the north of the city where France was playing an international friendly football match against Germany. The reaction to this atrocity is crucial to prevent its repetition, and the reaction is dependent upon deconstructing the events of the night.
Parisians were relaxing on a Friday night that began like no other. With the weekend beginning many people went to the centre of the city to go to restaurants and cafés. At 9pm local time gunmen opened fire on Le Carillion bar in the Rue Alibert, which is not far from the Place de la Republique, which was the main centre of scenes of solidarity after the attacks against Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. The same gunmen crossed the road to Le Petit Cambodge restaurant and continued firing; 12 people were killed. Another gunman had opened fire on diners at the Casa Nostra pizzeria in the Rue de la Fontaine au Roi, which was a few streets away. 19 people were also killed in gun attacks at La Belle Equipe, a popular bar and restaurant in the Rue de Charonne. Meanwhile three explosions occurred outside the Stade de France about half an hour after the football match being played had kicked off.
The main tragedy of the night, however, took place at the Bataclan concert hall. The 1,500 seat venue was playing host to the Eagles of Death Metal, a band which is renowned for its witty performances, when a gunman fired into the crowd taking 20 hostages in the process. The four gunmen reportedly said to the hostages “it’s the fault of Holland, it’s the fault of you president, he shouldn’t have intervened in Syria”. Three of the gunmen blew themselves up and the final one was shot dead by police. Numbers are hard to verify in this early stages but the general consensus is that around 120 people were killed inside the concert hall. The attacks were the most violent in Europe since the 2004 bombings in Madrid, and the most deadly terrorist attacks in France ever.
The locations themselves were designed to inflict as much anguish upon the civilian population as possible, and the bombs at the Stade de France were a direct message President Hollande, who had been a spectator at the game. Hollande’s response to the crisis was swift. He closed French borders to prevent people from leaving the country, he said that Paris was to have a curfew thus forcing everybody to remain indoors, and declared the entire country to be in a state of emergency, the first time the whole country had been since 1945. He delivered a speech from the Élysée Palace address the French people, and later travelled around Paris visiting the sites of the attacks and speaking the media.
The human response to the attacks has been overwhelmingly positive with calls for solidarity with France from around the world being expressed on social media. After the curfew was introduced taxi drivers took to Twitter to offer people free rides home to get Parisians off the streets. Also Facebook announced that it had created a page that people in Paris could access in order to tell their friends that they were safe. A symbol that has been spread around the internet is one of a peace symbol that artist Jean Julien has been credited with created which incorporates the Eiffel Tower into the traditional symbol of peace.
Although we are still in the aftermath of these tragic events, it would be foolish not to acknowledge the potential political ramifications of the attacks across Europe. In the UK Prime Minister David Cameron is preparing to have a vote on British involvement in Syria and these events may influence the way MPs vote on the issue. The words of the gunmen at the Bataclan raise questions about France’s involvement in the Middle East. Something that went largely unreported was that the makeshift refugee camp in Calais was set on fire last night; the attacks could result in a rise of anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe but especially in France. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks there was a spike in popularity of the Front National; polling suggests that Marine Le Pen’s party may well finish second in the 2017 Presidential election thus making the second round vote between Le Pen and the candidate of Les Républicains which is likely to be former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The question that now plagues the minds of everyone is: what should be done? There are three focusses that need to take place. The first is in relation to Middle East. Since decolonization the Middle East has been incredibly unstable and this was because of the colonial powers themselves. They created countries that had never previously existed which encompassed many different ethnic and cultural groups. Iraq is a prime example. In terms of religion the country is 70% Sunni, 25% Shia’a and 5% other religions including Jews, Christians and non-denominational Muslims. Similarly in terms of ethnicities, most Iraqis (75%) are Arabs who trace their lineage back as Palestinians, Bedouins etc., around 20% are Kurds, and the remaining 5% are ethnically Assyrian, Persian, Turkish, and Bahá’ís.
This wouldn’t be a problem if these communities were integrated and there was no history of sectarian tensions, but this is not the case. Almost all of the Kurds live in the North East, most Shia’a Iraqis live in the east of the country, and the West and Centre of the country is mostly populated by Sunnis. Outside of Baghdad, these communities are largely separate; if a brutal dictatorship is the only thing that can hold the country together, then the country shouldn’t be held together. The Kurds should have their own state and Iraq should be partitioned.
The UN Security Council needs pass a resolution to attack ISIS led by members of the Arab League with China, Russia and Western nations providing logistical support to the campaign. This will mean support for Assad in the short term; he may be brutal tyrant but the West must recognise that the moderate rebels that world leaders constantly talk about are not strong enough to defeat the Assad government. History is filled with examples of people who disagree coming together to meet a challenge, the most famous being Stalin, FDR and Churchill, but that does not mean that this de facto support for Assad is the same as endorsing his regime.
The final component of the Middle East element of the strategy is a comprehensive aid programme to improve the economic situation of countries in the region. By having external capital investment in schools, hospitals, and infrastructure countries in the region that are not in the hands of extremists, these moderate nations will become havens of stability in the region.
Secondly is what many liberals have a problem discussing, but I’m not a liberal so I’m fine pointing it out: religious terrorism, of whatever stripe, is rooted in religion. In the United States the KKK burned crosses and lynched black people in the name of their interpretation of the Judeo-Christian religion. I’m not saying that the KKK are representative of Protestant Christianity but to argue that two are not linked in any way is intellectually dishonest. When fundamentalist Hindus in India kill Muslims and Sikhs near the Pakistani border, which is largely going unreported, because these religious minorities are accused of the offence of eat beef, to argue that Hinduism is nothing to do with the motivations for these killings is clearly false.
In the same vein when these gunmen are physically telling their hostages and victims that they are motivated by a fundamentalist approach to Islam, the religion itself shouldn’t be ignored. Studies have shown that the religiosity of a population declines depending on the level of education received by that group, and this has been true throughout history, therefore investment in education and healthcare will result in the decline of people believing literalistic interpretations of their faith.
The final aspect is something that the popular press in the West refuse to countenance: there may be aspects of the West that need to change to prevent the radicalisation of young people. One of the many themes that is common among young people that have been radicalised is that they feel that West is too focussed on materialism and there is a lack of morality in society. The West is too focussed on materialism and not on the welfare of its people. These young people also point to that lack of community cohesion in the West and, as well as many immigrant communities not assimilating into Western societies, we have become a more atomised society since political leaders have pushed the idea of individualism.
The response to this final aspect is to become more open-minded to our neighbours, not to shut ourselves away from any other people that look or sound different to us. Whenever questions of immigration or assimilation are brought up by politicians or by the media the foundations are the same. What are British values? What are French values? What are American values? This fixation on distinguishing countries from each other fosters right-wing nationalism and xenophobic sentiments and should be opposed. Instead of focussing on national values, we should be focussing on international values that unite all human beings across the world. This is not to ignore the cultural and historical differences between nations but it would prevent animosity towards people based on their race or religion.
As last night unfolded millions of people watched in horror as the true extent of the catastrophe became clear. The solution to this problem is not easy but it is our responsibility to look at the politics of the Middle East and to reflect on ourselves in order to come up with a solution to the problem. As Paris, France and the World is in mourning for all those who were murdered last night we must stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters at the forefront of this tragedy. I shall end with the same immortal words that François Hollande finished his address to the nation last night: “Vive la République, et vive la France”.