Can Europe Make It?

Paris has been hit at its heart

The roots of these terror attacks are deep. They lie partly in Syria and Iraq, but also partly in our French and European cities. 

Geoffrey Pleyers
14 November 2015
open Movements

The openMovements series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

Before Le Petit Cambodge, the day after the Paris attacks, November 2015.

Before Le Petit Cambodge, the day after the Paris attacks, November 2015. Wikicommons/ Maya Anais-Yataghene. Some rights reserved.

Paris has been hit at its heart. The attacks did not target the Eiffel Tower or the ancient path around the Seine, not a place symbolic of political power or the business sector. Paris was hit in its heart because friendship and the joy of life radiate from the cafés of this cosy and lively east Parisian neighbourhood.

These are the places where Parisians go to have a drink with their friends on Friday evening, where they celebrate a birthday or a date for a not too formal romantic dinner. These are the places where Paris enjoys life after a week at work. These sites have become the direct targets of terror act by an obscurantist and oppressive global network. Rather than the centre of power or finance, they attacked the best part of our way of life: the places where we share emotions listening to a band or watching a game at the Stade de France or on the screen of a crowded bar, or these animated conversations around small tables in tiny restaurants far from the touristic spots and the “bourgeois” west end of the city. This shared happiness of a regular Friday night is where the heart of Paris beats.

On Friday night, young people celebrating life have become targets. For Paris was their city.

Those who celebrate death have shot those who celebrated life. The battlefield is global. And Paris is obviously at the heart of this battle. Hate speech and Daesh totalitarian projects have found their echo at the heart of this global city. The shootings, bombs and carnage of Syria and Iraq have been made to resound in our streets. We must also face this other side of Paris. The murderers were also young people, apparently even younger than their victims. And some of them at least were as Parisian as their victims. They knew perfectly well the neighbourhood where Parisians meet and celebrate on a Friday night.

Global flows of hate and radicalization cross the city and the world and submit peoples to a totalitarian power in the name of an ideology that is far closer to fascism than to any religion. These flows originate in the Islamic State, but also in Paris’ and Europe’s suburbs and in the heart of our cities. Long before the attacks against Charlie in January, sociologists such as Farhad Khosrokhavar have shown us how radicalization operates in our jails and our cities. These radicalized young people did not grow up in Syria or in Iraq, but in France and in Europe. They form battalions of fiery warriors in the Middle East. They also operate in their own country and in their hometown.

The roots of these terror attacks are deep. They lie partly in Syria and Iraq, but also partly in our French and European cities. In this global city that promises Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, there wasn’t much space left over for them to build a meaningful life. The massive riots that set ablaze French city suburbs exactly ten years ago did not elicit strong political or social responses.

Now as this information slowly enters our head and we realize that it is not a nightmare, how can we cope with such a situation? To yield on our values would be the real victory of terrorists. To let fear endanger our lifestyles, our will to celebrate life, friendships and Friday night would be an act of surrender. So it would be to fall to the stigmatization of the young Muslim men living in our suburbs who already suffer a strong discrimination against them. To fall into this easiest of traps would not only play the game of the terrorists, splitting our societies even further asunder and allowing this to swell the contingent of those who celebrate death. It would also be the renunciation of the values and the way of life promised and embodied by Paris, on Friday night more than on any other day.

The recent bombing at the peace demonstration in Ankara reminded us that peace activists and civil society are the bitterest and most effective enemies of those who seek war and authoritarianism, and may thus become their targets. Friday night attacks in Paris show us how inimical happiness and the celebration of life are to those who want to drag young people towards terror and the fascist totalitarian project pursued by Daesh.

On Friday night, young people who celebrate life have become targets. Paris was their city. Paris shall remain their city.

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