Paris attack is Europe’s 9/11

Paris attack is Europe’s 9/11

At least 12 people were killed in the terrorist attack in Paris on Jan. 7, as gunmen raided the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

It is the worst massacre on the media ever; an unacceptable act of violence to be condemned by all.

The weekly magazine has been subject to protests in the Muslim world since February 2006 when it reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which had been printed by Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.

French News Agency AFP said that despite being taken to court over anti-racism laws because of its publications in 2011 and 2012, the weekly continued to publish controversial cartoons of the Muslim prophet.

Its editor Stephane Charbonnier was under police protection due to death threats; Charbonnier and two police officers protecting him were killed in the attack.

But the Jan. 7 attack was not only a heinous attack on the media, it was also an attack aimed at triggering culture and religion-based fault lines in French and European politics. 

According to amateur video footage and eyewitness reports, the gunmen all wore black outfits and snow masks, drove black cars to the scene and shouted “Allahu akbar,” a sacred Islamic phrase to praise God that is abused by all radical Islamist groups in armed attacks.

All this symbolism shows that the action was either carried out by a radical Islamist group or by someone trying to give that impression. The usual suspects in that case would be either al-Qaeda affiliated groups or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Even before this attack, France has been in an Islamization/Islamophobia debate in relation to European immigration and security policies.

The debate was recently heated up with the release of a new novel, “Soumission” (Submission) by famous French writer Michel Houellebecq. In the novel, a Muslim president takes over in a collapsing France in 2022 to impose strict shariah Islamic law.

President François Hollande’s Socialist Party has harshly criticized Houellebecq for putting fuel on the anti-Islamist fury, already agitated by the nationalists of Marie Le Pen’s National Front (FN).

The Syrian civil war, now intermingled with the havoc in Iraq thanks to ISIL, is a major worry for France as a country of origin for a large number of “foreign fighters.” This is particularly the case after a “foreign fighter” bombed a synagogue in Belgium after returning from Syria in 2014.

The issue now tops Europe’s security concerns. The British government is already working on new regulations on immigration, also with security considerations.

The question has also recently been dividing public opinion in Germany. A civil society movement called PEGIDA has begun to organize rallies against Muslims in Germany, and after it gained a surprising amount of public support over the course of weeks, the German government and the Social Democrats began to organize counter rallies together with Islamic groups.

Turkey, with millions of its citizens and relatives in Germany, is particularly concerned about anti-Islam and anti-Turkish sentiments there. There have been fatal attacks in the near past by neo-Nazi groups.

The Paris attack is touching the nerves of European politicians, as if to test their patience and maturity regarding Muslim communities in their countries.

It would not be wrong to describe the Paris Charlie Hebdo attack as the 9/11 of Europe.

In 2001, al-Qaeda gave a terrible blow to the United States, which agitated the American system against radical Islamist movements. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq followed and we are all observing their unforeseen consequences now.

The Paris attack could antagonize the European stance regarding not only the radical Islamist groups, but also all Islamic communities, even in their own countries. Europe has a past that it is still trying to forget regarding discrimination against religious communities.

The worse scenario might be if it is understood that the attackers are indeed “foreign fighters” from Syria or Iraq.

There might even be an analogy with the Paris attack and the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, which triggered World War I; let us all hope not.