Reflections on the Paris Attacks

Je suis Paris
Je suis Paris – I am Paris, a common slogan expressing solidarity with the victims

Despite being used to horrible news I felt the Paris attacks affected me personally. I was in London at the time and Paris was only a couple of hours away on the train. They way the terrorists shot indiscriminately at people sitting outside in restaurants sent a clear message: Be afraid wherever you are! As a journalist I went to Paris.

Police and army were seen at every street corner and sirens were heard almost constantly. Bags were searched when entering shopping centres, but other than that I saw Parisians going about their business as usual. Their message to the terrorists seemed to be: We are not afraid!

Commorative Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral
Commemorative Mass for the victims at Notre Dame Cathedral

On Sunday night I attended a special Mass to honour the dead at Notre-Dame Cathedral. Security was in place here, too. The French tricolore was seen on one of the pillars inside the packed cathedral. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois said their strength was coming from God. He added that integrating some of the young foreigners was challenging, but the failure to integrate them in itself didn’t explain why they turned to radicalism.

Close to the flat that was raided in Saint-Denis a crowd gathered
Close to the flat that was raided in Saint-Denis a crowd gathered at the police cordon

When the police raided a flat in Saint-Denis, a Parisian suburb, I went to see the place for myself. There were very few Frenchmen in the streets and social problems were quite obvious.

It is widely understood that the terrorists are only using religion as an excuse. But apparently Hasna Ait Boulahcen, the young woman who was killed in the raid, never opened a Koran and was known to be fond of alcohol and cigarettes. It’s not exactly what you would expect of a religious person.

Around 20 police people carriers leaving Saint-Denis after the raid
Around 20 police people carriers leaving Saint-Denis after the raid

In response France has sent it’s aircraft carrier to Syria to intensify the bombing of so-called Islamic State (IS). There can be no doubt that they have to be stopped, but throwing bombs is not going to bring an end to this terrorist haven.

Some analysts have indeed questioned whether even eliminating IS with ground troops would make terrorism in Europe any less likely. So how do they become radicalised? The case has been made that

French students who questioned the bombing of IS
French students who questioned the bombing of IS

some young Muslim men feel marginalised in the West. Their religion prohibits them to approach women, yet they see this sexualised world all around them. Wielding weapons is their way to try and impress women. It has been argued that the kalashnikovs are basically an extension of their penises. This also partly explains why they pretend to be morally superior, but don’t hesitate to hold themselves sex slaves.

So the West may well have moral deficiencies, but IS isn’t exactly a haven of virtues. The West has made many mistakes during it’s colonial past and with the more recent wars in the region. Nonetheless IS have to be stopped, but a much wider strategy has to be found to end the current crisis and prevent it from worsening.