11 Months Later - Some Thoughts After the Attacks in Paris

We introduce Petros Konstaninidis as our newest contributor. Here is a piece he wrote after the Paris attacks in November last year. He originally published this on his blog: fikrallowed.wordpress.com


Some Thoughts After the Attacks in Paris

Petros Konstantinidis

Yes, I am also going to write on my preferred social media about the attacks in Paris, about my pain for the unjustly lost lives, about terrorism and about whether we should react by praying in hashtags and painting our profile pictures tricolor. Don’t believe that I am any kind of intellectual because I am writing about all that on a blog and not on Facebook, it’s just that I think that the attention that one gives to a Facebook post is much less than that they give when they have taken the mature decision to open a new tab on their browser. And yes, I would like you to pay attention to what I am going to say.

1) Dear Westerner, I want you to know that the world is not just the West. Certainly, we are not used to hearing about terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe, while suicide bombers are business as usual in the Middle East. However, every one of the 43 lives lost in Beirut on Thursday 12 November (2015, red.) is of no more or less importance than any of the 129 lives that were taken in Paris the next day. Nor is any one of those more important than every single life lost in Syria during the past 4 and a half years. Our selective sympathy is so ironic. On the one hand, it’s good that we sometimes realise that the world doesn't revolve around Kim Kardashian’s ass (phrase borrowed from a friend’s facebook post) and focus on slightly more serious issues, even if we only do this to get our friends’ approval for our political conscience or their likes for our bleu-blanc-rouge profile picture. I am by no means saying that everyone who wrote #PrayForParis or painted their profile picture is being a hypocrite, but this statement is true for some.

On the other hand, this phenomenon is distinctive of our selfishness, which needs to react only when we are being threatened. When such things happen in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Nigeria or Kenya, we feel that this is none of our business – “they are muslims/Africans, that’s how they work”, we sometimes say. But when terror strikes in the heart of Europe, we suddenly discover the universe. We are a bit slow, but eventually we get it.

  Egypt’s Pyramids Light Up With Flags of France, Lebanon and Russia. (Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Egypt’s Pyramids Light Up With Flags of France, Lebanon and Russia.
(Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

2) The refugees who are trying to reach Europe are not jihadists. Families who climb into plastic boats to go to Europe are trying to get away from exactly these “people”. Be sure about this: jihadists are not the everyday people who are being washed up on the shores of the Aegean sea. The terrorists do not travel (in general, they rarely travel) in ready-to-sink boats; they use much more advanced and legal routes. Europe is receiving people who are being chased. Whether these people will turn into terrorists is an issue of Europe and of the societies in which these people will live.

Extreme right-wing and nationalist constructs like Marine Le Pen’s National Front are going to give today’s refugees every reason to turn to extremist action in the future. Solidarity, on the other hand, will keep them away from all that. What would you do if you moved to a country and were treated like a sub-human and a second-class citizen? Wouldn’t you somehow react? If, though, the hosting society welcomed you with open arms and helped you fulfill your dreams away from war and misery, I will tell you what you wouldn’t do: bomb it.

3) ISIS’s jihadists are trying to divide the French (and, by extension European or Western in general) society, they want to provoke hatred against Islam, they want to turn everyone against the muslims so that the latter will turn against everyone else. The attacks in Europe are taking place, in my humble opinion, in order to target muslims, so that their radicalisation and their participation in ISIS’s “struggle” can succeed. The jihadists are trying to benefit from Europe’s conservative instincts. They do not like seeing refugees leaving ISIS-controlled land and moving to Europe. They need them in Iraq and Syria, because it is easier to recruit them there. 

4) The attacks November 2015 Paris attacks had a specific target: the carefree, progressive and dreamy youth who is having fun dancing and drinking alcohol, laughing and flirting. Apart from the over-ambitious attack at the Stade de France that targeted French President François Hollande, the rest of the attacks took place at youth hangouts. Just like January’s attacks were targeted at freedom of expression, Charlie Hébdo’s tactless sense of humour and the Jewish community of Paris (let’s not forget the attack at the kosher supermarket), the attacks of the 13th of November wanted to pass a specific message.

5) Both 2015 attacks in Paris did not take place out of the blue. There are a number of reasons for which “the city of light” was chosen by the terrorists as the most appropriate target. Firstly, Paris is the capital city of European Enlightenment. Jihadists hate the Enlightenment. Reason: the idea of liberation, individual liberties and the examination of the truth all go against what ISIS’s fighters and supporters stand for. Secondly, France is a 100% secular state, with a large number of self-declared atheists. At the same time, it is the country of the European Union with the greatest number of muslim citizens, who are already targeted by a part of the French population, specifically by the supporters of the extreme right-wing rhetoric of Marine Le Pen. As I explained above, stimulating this right-wing trend and dividing French society can bring many gains to ISIS.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, we need to focus on the responsibility of France, and the Western world in general, in today’s situation in the Middle East. Going back to 1916 and the Sykes-Picot Agreement, an agreement that ISIS’ fighters remember really well (see video below), we witness the beginning of France’s dynamic presence in the Middle East.

Ever since, France, together with the U.K and the U.S.A, has played a very important role in the long-suffering region, participating in numerous military operations. Western intervention in the Middle East is largely responsible for today’s reality in the region, having empowered, among others, extreme Islamist groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Furthermore, we cannot claim that the radicalisation of a part of the Middle East’s population and their hatred towards the West is abnormal. You see, when they hear about “the West” these people do not think about the open-minded, democratic and liberal West that we have in mind. Instead, images of bombings and drone strikes that kill their fellow citizens and family members come to their minds.

Combine that with a low level of education and try to imagine how hard it is for these people not to turn to radical ideologies. Think of us, the educated and civilised Westerners, and our reaction after the Paris attacks. There are more than a few people who blamed the entire muslim community and suggested that 'we should be over with them'. What Paris was for us, is everyday life for someone in Syria. How can we expect them to not have an equally bad – or worse – reaction?

6) In my opinion, the decision for further involvement in the Middle East and the bombing of ISIS’s strongholds is not part of the solution. Even if all ISIS militants are killed, any collateral damage will produce new waves of radicalisation and will recycle the hatred. So, what is the solution? Well, the West (and Russia as well) should leave the Middle East alone and trust the region’s locals, who will eventually beat the dark side of the force that rules over them. In the end, the sole Western involvement in the Middle East should be through humanitarian aid, to pay for all the damage made during the past 100 years.

But all this will remain a pipe dream as long as Western powers continue to be best friends with the region’s most anti-liberal and obscure regime, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, due to oil-related issues. As long as this close friendship continues, new extreme Islamist monsters will emerge, with whom we will fight for many years to come.

7) Part of the responsibility also lies with the French society, as the attacks of last Friday were carried out mostly by French citizens. The radicalisation of these people and their push towards the welcoming arms of ISIS is partly a result of the marginalisation of these people by the French society. Islamophobia, ghettoisation, running of illegal mosques-radicalisation centres and limited opportunities are certainly some of the reasons that led to the tragic events of November 13, 2015.

However, I would also like to point out the impressive reaction of the French citizens after the terrorist attacks of last Friday, as – despite the shock – they have given the world lessons of solidarity and fearlessness through a variety of ways. Even if François Hollande made the “mistake” of admitting that “there is terror” in his first address after the attacks, giving some credit to the terrorists who succeeded in igniting fear, the French society has shown that it is remaining immune to fear and to dangerous, islamophobic conclusions.

 England and France players stand together as a mark of respect for the victims of Friday’s attacks in Paris, before the international friendly football match between England and France at Wembley Stadium in London, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

England and France players stand together as a mark of respect for the victims of Friday’s attacks in Paris, before the international friendly football match between England and France at Wembley Stadium in London, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

To a degree, I have the impression that ISIS is exploiting every single terrorist strike, trying to establish a monopoly in the terrorist “market”. And if the latter sounds funny, let me remind you the definition of the state, according to the German sociologist Max Weber: “A state is any human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. Worrying, isn’t it?

(Watch this video to learn why ISIS is weak)

As a conclusion: I am extremely sorry and angry for all the victims who unjustly lost their lives in Paris last Friday (in 2015) (not only in Paris, I am sorry for every single life which is unjustly lost). My condolences to all their friends and family. But know this: these people are 'martyrs' who were killed for the most important of values: happiness! Never forget them!

Merci, la France.

  Dozens of mourning people captured during civil service in remembrance of November 2015 Paris attacks victims. (Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Dozens of mourning people captured during civil service in remembrance of November 2015 Paris attacks victims. (Source: commons.wikimedia.org)