These attacks, in their cruelty and awfulness, targeted the everyday, people going about the rituals of Friday night (eating out, going to a sports event, attending a concert) that are shared across Europe and other parts of the world. They attacked the very notion of being spectators of world news rather than participants, they changed the notion of being unaffected (a notion that has always been a privilege anyway).
The operation had three components, each with a distinct target. The Stade de France attack was small-scale but large impact – its ingredients a modern national sporting icon, the occasion of a match with Germany, and the French president's presence among the fans. The Bataclan theatre was hosting a popular American rock band, thus ensuring a very international audience. The café and bar attacks would result in persistent fear across a popular district of Paris and well beyond.
openDemocracy: The Paris atrocity, and after, November 14, 2015
Quartz outlines some of the reasons of why ISIS has targeted France a second time after the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in the beginning of the year: its engagement in Syria, its fraught relationship with its Muslim population, especially because of its pursuit of "secular values", and the media effect of seeing Paris shut down.
On ISIS' strategy to destroy the "grey zone":
There is a recruitment framework. The Grey Zone, a 10-page editorial in Isis’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015, describes the twilight area occupied by most Muslims between good and evil, the caliphate and the infidel, which the “blessed operations of September 11” brought into relief. Quoting Bin Laden it said: “The world today is divided. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists’, with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the western crusaders.” Now, it said, “the time had come for another event to … bring division to the world and destroy the grey zone”. The attacks in Paris were the latest instalment of this strategy, targeting Europe, as did the recent attacks in Turkey. There will be more, much more, to come.
It conscientiously exploits the disheartening dynamic between the rise of radical Islamism and the revival of the xenophobic ethno-nationalist movements that are beginning to seriously undermine the middle class – the mainstay of stability and democracy – in Europe in ways reminiscent of the hatchet job that the communists and fascists did on European democracy in the 1920s and 30s.
The Guardian: Mindless terrorists? The truth about Isis is much worse, November 16, 2015
The strategy seems to be effective, as the French government struggles with finding a response to the attacks (increasing the air offensive in Syria) at home.
What will this mean for Europe's borders? In the past months, they have been under debate due to the Syrian refugee crisis (and from a cynic's perspective, it isn't hard to predict that some European countries will take this opportunity to close their borders against refugees now, using the attacks as an excuse - even though those very refugees are fleeing from the same organisation that has claimed responsibility for the attacks, even though the attackers themselves were European citizens and therefore among the privileged).
Living abroad, I've been thinking about what Europe means for a while now, this very contradictory combination of idealism (which works well for the privileged in possession of a EU passport) and deeply rooted fear and xenophobia against the other, which always guides the quest of finding a way to be exclusionary effectively. Here's an excellent essay on the nature of the border in Eurozine.
This bordering activity opposes itself to what many of us hoped would be the reinforcement of the spontaneous conviviality of life in a modern global city, as a natural corollary of years of life in close proximity between people of different national and ethnic backgrounds; this conviviality is strongly linked to a sense of a commonality of interests, and deeply entwined in the agreements people reach on the sharing of public goods, benefits and services.
Eurozine: Frontier anxiety, November 13, 2015
The Washington Post makes the case for the US accepting more Syrian refugees (and the New Yorker analyses the surprising economics of Syrian refugees):
Better intelligence on actual terrorists will ensure our safety and security, not abandoning the thousands of refugees fleeing their violence. Shunning refugees is not only an affront to our own values, it’s a tacit acceptance of ISIS’ twisted worldview. ISIS has denounced refugees fleeing to the West from their supposedly idyllic Caliphate, warning they would not be welcome in the U.S. and Europe. Pandering to paranoia and xenophobia unfortunately helps to prove their point.
We don’t have to sacrifice our values to ensure our security. We have the tools to safely welcome more refugees — all that’s missing is the will to do so.
Washington Post: The Case for Accepting More Syrian Refugees, November 17, 2015
The New Yorker with a portrait of the Belgian city of Molenbeek, a focus point for the investigation into the attack on Paris.
ISIS also claimed responsibility for an attack in Beirut which killed at least 41 people.
bookforum with a selection of links about Islamic State and the war that it wants, and how to think about Islamic State:
Isis, too, offers a postmodern collage rather than a determinate creed. Born in the ruins of two nation states that dissolved in sectarian violence, it vends the fantasy of a morally untainted and transnational caliphate. In actuality, Isis is the canniest of all traders in the flourishing international economy of disaffection: the most resourceful among all those who offer the security of collective identity to isolated and fearful individuals. It promises, along with others who retail racial, national and religious supremacy, to release the anxiety and frustrations of the private life into the violence of the global. Unlike its rivals, however, Isis mobilises ressentiment into militant rebellion against the status quo.
The Guardian: How to think about Islamic State, July 24, 2015
And beyond analysing the contents of ISIS' ideology, here is a take on its governance of the territories it captures, and how it supports its own claim of being a "state":
ISIL coordinates hospitals, bakeries, humanitarian aid and the running or repair of infrastructure of all kinds, from the water pipelines to large dams and power stations. It ensures that civil servants paid by the Syrian government actually carry out their work, which again is not the case in all areas of Syria. All this is to ensure that, just as it secures a monopoly over the use of force, it has a similar monopoly over vital services.
openDemocracy: ISIL and governance, November 19, 2015
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