Paris, the city of lights, arts, romance, fashion and fine cuisine is turning since the beginning of 2015 into a zone of terror and horror. A “spokesman” for Islamic State (IS) threatened in a video posted on the 22nd of July that IS will “massacre French people in the streets of Paris”. The terrorists who killed in cold blood the staff of the Charlie Hebdo magazine on the 7th of January, then attacked a Jewish department store and killed a policeman claimed the same: “These attacks will not be the last!” On the 21st of August three Americans stopped a terrorist from organizing a bloodbath in a French high-speed train (TGV) heading from Brussels to Paris. Many lives were saved by that act of bravery, but also by good luck.
However, last week it happened again. The 13th of November will remain an infamous date for Parisians. IS terrorists struck with much greater intensity and caused an incredible loss of life. Suicide bombers (a new feature in terrorist attacks in France) and gunmen with Kalashnikovs attacked almost simultaneously the Stade de France, where the French President François Hollande attended a football match between France and Germany, and six other locations in central Paris. The Bataclan concert hall became the scene of a horrific massacre of around 100 people with dozens seriously wounded who even now are fighting for their lives.
I was in Paris last Friday night, socializing in Belleville with good company in high-spirits, just some 400m from where the first shots were fired. The news of the terrorist attacks spread through media channels and social networks almost instantaneously. I realized only the next day how close we were to this tragedy. One of our friends lost a close relative at Bataclan. I would like to express my deep condolences to all those who lost loved ones.
Over the weekend Paris looked almost deserted (in comparison to normal weekends). The relatively few people in the streets obviously looked quite distressed, and also seemed more vigilant than usual, although not at all fearful. The French symbol Marianne, in the Place de la République, and all places where the terrorists had killed innocent people were covered with flowers, candles and personal messages. I heard a Frenchman, in tears, telling a foreign media correspondent that “the Daesh terrorists are not Muslims, like my own friends, but the most horrible sons of a b…ch”.
What makes France so attractive to IS and other Islamic terrorists? There are allegedly around 7,000 suspects in France considered to be potential terrorists, 7,000 more who are regarded as highly threatening Islamic activists, and yet 2,000 more extremely dangerous people who are under special surveillance. Most likely there are similar numbers in Britain, Belgium and Germany, as well. However, it seems to me that the French anti-terrorist efforts—although they were effective in preventing several terrorist attacks and continue to show constant high visibility in the streets of Paris in the form of heavily armed patrols of policemen, gendarmes and army soldiers—have failed in the sense that the terrorists have not been deterred from attacking Paris.
IS and other Islamic terrorists would certainly like to strike any nation that they regard as a deadly enemy, especially the United States. They haven’t been able to achieve much on American soil or against the US elsewhere since 9/11, but their newest target, Russia, has already been hit very painfully (not at home, but in the skies of the Sinai). US, Russia, and also Britain, have a tight border control regime, whereas France, bound by the Schengen regime, can hardly prevent the infiltration of terrorists. In this sense, France is not only a highly attractive, but also a vulnerable target for terrorists, and it depends, for example, on the effectiveness of Belgian anti-terrorist efforts. The united Europe is as powerful as its weakest links in terms of external border control and the management of immigrants or anti-terrorist activities.
No doubt that an important role is played by the thousands of European Muslims who have join IS in Iraq and Syria, very many of them coming from France. These reckless fighters are now a major tool of IS in order to export its war in Europe. This will not stop until IS is practically eliminated, if even then because the prospects to achieve peace and stability in both Syria and Iraq in the near future remain very slim. Western governments have to work very closely with Middle-Eastern governments first of all right there, in that region, and not only concentrate on internal security. Just one day before the Paris attacks, terrorists killed 43 innocent people in Beirut, but almost nobody noticed that.
IS and other terrorists kill people wherever they can, not only in France, but also in Lebanon. It should have been appropriate for us, as Europeans, to also react in solidarity to support Lebanon, to at least put the red and white stripes or the green cedar tree of the Lebanese flag on our Facebook profile pictures. This may be one way of showing the people of the Middle-East that we care about them, and that we have a common enemy in these terrorists. Otherwise, the message we give through our ignorance and indifference is that we almost consider the terrorist attacks in Beirut as a “fight between themselves”, that the value of the lives of Middle-Eastern people isn’t anywhere near to that of Europeans, and that we only (have to) care about them when they migrate massively to Europe.
Europe and the Europeans, in close alliance with the US, have to decisively change their attitude in these circumstances because the next large-scale terrorist attacks are not a question of if, but when and where. France, who will host next year’s European Football Championship, involving again its main arena that was attacked last Friday, is obviously particularly worried. There is only one way—terrorist networks in Europe have to be crushed through common efforts, and terrorists and their supporters must be shown no mercy. At the same time, Europe must support cooperative Middle-Eastern governments to combat terrorism with significantly more resources, and show increasing solidary and respect for those peoples who suffer from terrorism even more than we do.