COMMENT: On November 13, France witnessed the worst terror attack in its history, when about 129 people were killed and more than 350 injured. Many wondered how this could happen in France, a nation which first spoke of equality for all citizens before the law.
The fact is that such attacks happen precisely because France, like India, strongly pursues this ideal, which is antithesis to the idea of jihad pursued by many still stuck in the medieval-era mindset.
Eleven months ago, two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, entered the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Armed with assault rifles, they killed 11 people and injured 11 others. They identified themselves as members of the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda. While leaving, they shot dead a police officer posted outside the building. Later in the day, other attacks took place in France, as five more were killed and 11 wounded.
France thought such incidents would not happen again, but it did. President François Hollande, who was watching a ‘friendly’ football match between France and Germany in the Stade de France, had to be escorted away by his security staff during half time.
A couple of hours later, he addressed the nation: “Terrorist attacks of an unprecedented level are underway across the Paris region. It’s a horror.” He declared a State of Emergency and told his countrymen that France was at war.
As he was speaking, the attack at Bataclan, a popular concert hall in Paris, was still on. One hour into the concert by the US band Eagles of Death Metal, some heavily-armed gunmen walked from the back of the hall packed with 1,000 people.
Calmly and methodically, they fired at hundreds of screaming concert-goers. One attacker told the crowd, “It’s the fault of Hollande, it’s the fault of your president; he should not have intervened in Syria.”
In the case of Charlie Hebdo, the weekly was targeted for publishing cartoons of Prophet Mohammed; this time the attacks did not occur against any symbolic place or person, but in ordinary popular spots: bars, restaurants, concert hall… and the Stade de France, which for many symbolises the multi-racial character of French sport.
Whoever I spoke to in France after the carnage, could only say: “It could have happened to anybody.” This deeply shocked the public. But how did it come to pass?
A few days earlier, Hakim, a 25-year-old resident of the port city of Toulon, had been arrested for preparing a terrorist attack targeting some French naval personnel. Hakim had met one Mustapha Mokeddem, who convinced him to join the jihad.
He tried to go to Syria, but after it failed, he was told by Mustapha to ‘act in France’. When he was arrested by the police, he admitted that the ISIS had ordered the new recruits that if they were unable to join the ‘Caliphate’, they should prepare attacks in France.
In one video, an ISIS cadre exhorts his ‘brothers’ to become ‘solitary wolves’ and to fight the ‘infidels’: “Kill them with knives” was the injunction.
The attackers in Paris have probably followed a similar trail.
The modus operandi in Paris is quite different from the one used in Mumbai during 26/11. In Paris, the terrorists were homegrown (though some lived in nearby Belgium), while in Mumbai, they came from a foreign country with the objective to wage war on India.
Further, in Paris seven out of eight terrorists blew themselves up; it was not the case in Mumbai. Despite other dissimilarities, the fact remains that terror is terror, wherever it strikes. This is why so many heads of states assured France of their support.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was right to say at the BRICS meeting in Turkey: “The scourge of terrorism is growing, and all humankind should unite to fight it.”
There is, after all, no easy solution to stop such attacks. Even more worrying is the large amount of arms and ammunition used by the terrorists.
All this raises critical questions regarding the French foreign policy, the issue of migrants and the inadequacy of intelligence sharing within Europe, among others. Obviously, there is no easy answer.
Modi, when he met other leaders during the G20 Summit, suggested steps “to choke financing, supply of arms and communication channels of terrorists and enhance global cooperation to check use of cyber networks by militant groups.” This is crucial.
Unity amongst the nations of the world is certainly a key to defeat the jihadi scourge. But it is not an easy task to achieve.
What is amazing is the reaction of the ordinary Parisian. Hardly a day after the horrific massacre, thousands went out to enjoy the sunny Sunday on the terraces of the cafés. An invitation had circulated (in English) on the Twitter network: ‘occupyterrace’ and ‘f…daech’.
Millions in France are not ready to accept the diktats of the ‘madmen’; Le Monde wrote: “The sweetness of the moment was particularly delectable. The bruised citizens of Paris occupied the parks and sat, as they used to do, on the terraces.”
The motto of the city of Paris, Fluctuat nec mergitur (‘Tossed by the waves but not sunk’) became the most circulated message on the social network.
Perhaps resilience is the only way to beat madness and barbarianism. – From DailyO