On November 13th 2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris. As well as three suicide bombings at Stade de France, attackers also shot at people outside Le Carillon, a café and bar, before shooting people inside the restaurant Le Petit Cambodge. A man with a machine gun fired shots outside Café Bonne Bière, while two attackers fired shots at the outdoor terrace of the restaurant La Belle Équipe. At Comptoir Voltaire café, a man placed an order before detonating his suicide vest and killing himself.
The worst attack occurred at the Balaclan theatre where a mass shooting and hostage-taking occurred. About an hour into the concert, three men with AK-47 assault rifles entered the hall. Witnesses heard shouts of “Allahu Akbar” before the gunmen opened fire on the crowd. One witness in the Bataclan said a gunman yelled, “This is because of all the harm done by Hollande to Muslims all over the world.” The police launched an assault on the theatre after reports the attackers had begun killing hostages. Two attackers died by detonating their suicide vests. Another was hit by police gunfire and his vest blew up when he fell. The attacks killed 129 people and injured 352; 80 critically.
The attacks were described as the deadliest in France since WWII; that is not true. The deadliest attack since WWII on French soil was the October 17th Paris Massacre of 1961 when Maurice Papon, a former Nazi sympathizer and the chief of Paris police, ordered the brutal repression of a peaceful pro-Algerian independence march which resulted in the deaths of over 200 Algerians.
Several media outlets have guessed that the terrorists attacked Paris because it is the “quintessential symbol of freedom”, I don’t believe that at all. I believe they attacked Paris because it is the capital of the state for which they blame all of their misfortunes on. The attackers were not foreigners or refugees, they were French, they were homegrown; and they are not alone.
It may be difficult to apply nuance to a situation that has made people so emotional, but simply pointing fingers, spouting hate, bombing foreign countries, and closing borders is not going to fix anything. In fact, it’s going to make the situation escalate. Which is exactly what ISIS wants. It’s easy to talk about terrorists, it’s easy to blame it on Arabs and Muslims and remain ignorant; it’s not easy to discuss how radicalization happens, and is happening, in European countries because that’s when it gets uncomfortable and ugly.
Every single one of the terrorists identified so far have been French and Belgian nationals. These men were born in Europe, raised in Europe, and radicalized in Europe; yet media outlets insist on putting special emphasis on their North African origins. The problem is not their origins or the culture they come from, the problem is the societies they grew up in.
Several arrests were made in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek recently in connection to the attacks. Omar Ismail Mostefai, one of the suicide bombers in the Paris attacks, grew up in the Parisian banlieue of Courcouronnes. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man thought to be the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, was born in Molenbeek. Molenbeek and the banlieues of France are all known for being ghettos, and for having a mostly poor and North African population.
Both the French and Belgian government as well as the police have been treating North Africans like second class citizens for decades. The effects of this are mostly seen in the youth, namely the male population. There are many North Africans in both countries who are 3rd, 4th, and even 5th generation immigrants. Europe is all that they know, many have never even set foot in their countries of origin and the ones who have feel as though they don’t belong, yet Europe has gone out of its way to distance itself from them and make them feel unwelcome. The education system has failed them, the police harass and arrest them, they cannot find jobs and are accused of being lazy and useless (colonial rhetoric lives on). They’re deprived of their right to be human beings because they’re too busy being used as Europe’s punching bag. France’s outright racist behavior towards Algerians in particular is centuries old. As Mouloud Aounit once said, “En France, tu es né bougnoule, tu resteras bougnoule à vie” (In France, you are born a wog, and you stay a wog your whole life.)
When you are disenfranchised, uneducated, unemployed, poor and you feel entirely disconnected from the society you live in; you become angry, and that anger has to be directed somewhere. This anger usually manifests into gang violence, aggression towards police, and rioting, but for the past few years Islamists have been tapping into that anger and turning it into a radical form of Islam. Prisons in France are now known for being fundamentalist recruiting grounds, prisons that hold mostly disenfranchised and very angry young minorities. These people are vulnerable, and they are easily manipulated. They are told that they will be given good money for doing Gods work as “holy” soldiers and that if they die in action they will go to paradise, they are essentially being offered a direction in life and a place where they can belong; a sense of brotherhood. When you give someone’s life purpose, they’ll do anything for you. It must sound a lot better than living in a ghetto and being treated like second class citizens for the rest of your live.