On Friday Nov. 13, seven coordinated attacks took place in six locations throughout the city of Paris, killing more than 130 civilians. Just two days after this tragic event, the story is quickly unfolding. On Saturday, Nov. 14, ISIS issued an ominous statement claiming responsibility for the attacks and calling them, "the first of the storm." Amidst all of the chaos, fear and anger it is unclear now what the future holds for France.
President Francois Hollande delivered an address on Saturday, in the aftermath of the attacks in which he declared three days of national mourning for the loss of the many innocent lives. In his statement, President Hollande described the events of Friday the 13th as, "an act of war":
"It was an act of war that was committed by the Daesh [ISIS] terrorist army, a jihadist army, against France... Against the values that we defend all throughout the world... Against what we are: A free country...France must have no pity for the barbarians of Daesh*. [France] will act with all the means necessary within the law, on all fronts [interior and exterior] with our allies who are also targeted by the threat of Terrorism." - Predident Hollande
The term Daesh refers to ISIS. France finds that to call the group The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a misnomer. Laurent Fabius, the Foreign Minister of France, said: "This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists."
In trying to make sense of the tragedies France has been subject to over this past year–this is the second extremist attack against the state following the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January–one cannot help but wonder: Why France?
In August, Insider Monkey, a financial news website, generated a list of the top 10 Most Racist European Countries towards Muslims of which France was ranked number one. But is it fair to call France racist?
There has been much controversy over the nation’s approach to religious tolerance and acceptance. France has enforced strict laws aimed to uphold the principles of secularism - the separation of religion and state – the country is known as a République Laïque. As members of the Republic, all citizens of France must abide by the strict laws that are in place.
To further understand this controversy, we must take a look at its history. The tradition of Laïcité dates back to the 1870 Papal Infallibility decree, wherein the Vatican mandated governments to impose the teachings of the Catholic Church on their citizens. This decree was in conflict with both the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and with the United States Bill of Rights - documents that embrace the right of religious freedoms. The term laïcité was thus coined in opposition to the Papal Infallibility decree condemning any religious coercion as a form of unjust religious influence. It wasn't until 1965 that the Catholic Church accepted the principles of religious freedom declared in The Rights of Man. Since then, the French government has enforced regulations on any religious display in public places. While, this approach seems radical from an American standpoint, it does provide a basis for understanding why France has enforced such strict measures on wearing religious symbols such as the hijab, the yarmulke, and the cross in public spaces such as schools.
Whether or not one is in agreement with Frances tradition of laïcité is not relevant to the horrific events of Friday the 13th. Daesh, under the pretense of acting in the name of God, has violated the peaceful practices of Islam through terrorism, the use of violence and intimidation tactics to frighten civilians in the pursuit of a selfish political aim. The goal of such a heinous act is to instill panic, fear, and a sense of helplessness in the target population. Yet, in a world as connected as ours, the act of terrorism affects not only the targeted population, but humanity as a whole.
The speech given by the French president is somewhat reminiscent of the address given to congress by President George Bush in Sept. 2001 in wake of al-Qaeda's attack on the World Trade Center. In his speech President Bush famously declared a War on Terror. Like Hollande, Bush had also remarked on the threat terrorism poses to freedom: "Night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack."
What can be done to fight this menace to society? Can we truly be sure of our own safety? The reality is that we cannot, because a terrorist attack will never be something for which we can prepare. As reflected by the Charleston Church shooting, on June 17, an attack can happen anywhere, at any time, to anyone.
If these tragedies prove anything, it is that life is a series of unexpected events and it can be taken away from us as quickly and as randomly as it has been given. Perhaps it is too soon to wonder if the events of this past Friday will prompt yet another War on Terror. We can only wait and see if history will repeat itself. However, if we have learned any lessons from our previous actions it is that a War on Terror is not a war that can be won.