Op-Ed: Paris attacks: What can France do to battle homegrown terrorism?
Sylvain Perriot stops to take a picture of the flag at half mast above the Presidential Palace in Paris. France’s Sate of Emergency will continue, with flags at half mast.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Looking inside the courtyard of the Presidential Palace, guards stand at attention for the departure of Secretary of State John Kerry after his meeting with French President Francois Hollande.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
On the third day of national mourning, the Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colors of the French flag after going dark.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
On the third day of national mourning, people continue to gather in public places like the Place de la Republique, including Tao Cisse, age 5, and Maya Sutej.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
People observe a minute of silence in front of the Le Carillon cafe in Paris on Nov. 16, paying tribute to victims of the terror attacks.(Lionel Bonaventure / AFP/Getty Images)
Paris residents take part in a Nov. 16 moment of silence under the Eiffel Tower in observance of those who died during the terrorist attacks three days earlier.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
French President Francois Hollande, center, stands with government officials to observe a minute of silence Nov. 16 at the Sorbonne University in Paris.(Stephane De Sakutin / AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the French Foreign Legion stand guard near the Eiffel Tower on Nov. 16.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A Paris shopkeeper stays inside Sunday as soldiers guard the street where she works.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A sign that reads ‘Not even afraid’ is draped on the statue on Republique plaza in Paris.(Ian Langsdon / European Pressphoto Agency)
Women run past French soldiers as panic spread through the streets of Paris when rumors spread of another possible terrorist attack, which turned out to be a car left running in the street.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
French police have released a photo of Abdeslam Salah, a 26-year-old sought in connection with the Paris attacks.(National Police)
Prelates arrive to celebrate a Mass in memory of the attack victims at the Notre Dame cathedral.(LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP/Getty Images)
An emotional crowd gathers in front of Le Carillon restaurant.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
The glasses and silverware remain on the table where bullets were fired at Cafe Bonne Biere.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Armed police stand guard Nov. 14 near the Eiffel Tower, which was kept dark in honor of those who died in the terrorist attacks.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Mourners place flowers and candles outside the Bataclan theater in Paris.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A woman is evacuated from the Bataclan theater after the shootings in Paris.(Thibault Camus / Associated Press)
People lie on the pavement near the Cafe Bonne Biere in Paris following a series of attacks.(ANTHONY DORFMANN / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers evacuate people following an attack in Paris, where there were also reports of an ongoing hostage crisis at a concert venue.(Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP/Getty Images)
A victim lays dead under a blanket outside the Bataclan theater in Paris.(Jerome Delay / AP)
Hundreds of people spilled onto the field of the Stade de France stadium after explosions were heard nearby during a match between the French and German national soccer teams.(Christophe Ena / Associated Press)
Friday night, in the center of Paris, hundreds of people were gunned down as they enjoyed the warm November weather, ate dinner or took in a show. At this point, 129 have died. In a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, Islamic State promised more horror to come and called France a “capital of prostitution and obscenity.”
Why did Islamic State choose Paris, still recovering from January’s attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo?
It’s not the only target, of course: London, Madrid, New York and many cities across the Middle East have been hit. But there seem to be more terrorist attempts in France and more “homegrown” terrorists than in neighboring countries. At least one of the murderers was a Frenchman with a criminal record. The Charlie Hebdo killers were French, too.
One reason for France’s plight, often mentioned, is its colonial past. It fought a bloody war against Algerian independence forces from 1954 to 1962; these battle lines spilled over to Paris and continue to shape French politics. As the “protector” of Morocco, Syria and Lebanon, France left a legacy of cultural and economic influence. France still intervenes militarily in Muslim-majority countries. It sent troops to Mali in 2012 when radical Islamic militants rebelled against the central government, and it has been launching airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria.
France also breeds potential jihadis on its own soil — young Muslim men who feel excluded from the secular-Christian mainstream. The police profile of the French jihadi looks something like this: He lives in a tall housing tower with little in the way of sports facilities or neighborhood clubs. His town is on the outskirts of a major city, whether Paris, Lyon or Lille. He may be of Moroccan or Algerian ancestry, but he feels few ties to those societies. He is unlikely to find a good job: His name and his postal code put him at the bottom of the list. He is envious of the rich — those young people enjoying their lives in the center of Paris on Friday night. He may also blame Jews for his distress; nowhere in Western Europe have the intifadas been more intensely divisive than in France.
What can France do? I leave aside the questions of border security, surveillance and military strategy in Syria: Those are above my pay grade. But I have two recommendations for how President Francois Hollande can improve matters at home. One, break the isolation. Continue efforts already begun to redesign the urban landscape so that it encourages a sense of national belonging rather than a sense of exclusion. Cease the repeated efforts to stigmatize practicing Muslims with silly rules banning face coverings in public or preventing school officials from offering non-pork meal options to children. The French prize their laïcité — their strict separation of church and state — but there should be room for religious observance in a free, open society.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has called for closing all French Islamic organizations. But saner minds must resist the temptation to lash out at Muslim fellow citizens or at legitimate refugees, which can only lead to yet more alienation. This is a time for solidarity, not division.
John R. Bowen is the Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of “Can Islam be French?”
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