ISIS Attacks Paris, France and the USA Must Not Repeat the Mistakes of 9/11

© Josh Sager – November 2015

On Friday night, terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State committed a large, coordinated, attack in Paris that left over a hundred dead. In the time since the attack, there have been a great number of discrepancies in what is being reported about the attack, but here is we know now.

A map of the attacks on Paris. Reuters Graphics

Map Credit to Reuters

At approximately 9:20 on Friday night, two suicide bombers struck just outside of the Stade de France (national stadium of France) while a soccer game was being played inside. The French President, Francois Hollande, was inside the stadium at the time and it is reported that one of the bombers tried to gain entry to the stadium but had gained the attention of security. This could indicate that the plan was to blow up a bomb within the stadium, then a second explosive at the primary exit while people were fleeing the first blast (consistent with double-tap attacks employed by terrorists in the past), but this is just speculation at this point.

About 10 minutes after the first two bombings, a third bomb was detonated at the stadium.

While the Stade de France was under attack, a second team of terrorists struck several restaurants and bars in Paris’s 10th District with automatic weapons. They opened fire with assault rifles on anybody they could see, killing dozens (39 confirmed dead and many more wounded).

At approximately 9:40, three more terrorists armed with automatic weapons attacked the Bataclan Theater, which was hosting a metal concert that night. After firing into the crowd, the terrorists gathered some of the hostages on the stage and recited their grievances with the west. At approximately 12:20 on Saturday morning, French police breached the theater and got into a gunfight with the terrorists, who activate suicide vests and blow themselves up rather than be captured. This was an absolute massacre, and 89 people are confirmed dead from the attack, while dozens are hospitalized and may die in the coming days.

While the hostage crisis was happening at the Bataclan Theater, there were two more suicide bombings; one outside of the Stade de France and one outside of a local restaurant in the 11thDistrict. There is only one confirmed casualty from these bombings but numerous people were injured.

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At the end of this set of terrorist attacks, 129 Parisians were injured and over 350 were wounded, around 80 of whom are in critical condition and who will either die or survive with severe disabilities (ex. amputations). These attacks represent the worst act of mass violence in France since WWII and the international outrage has been extreme.

While a Syrian passport was found next to one of the terrorists, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU, has told the Telegraph that all of the identified terrorists appear to be EU citizens rather foreign terrorists who have infiltrated the nation. Honestly, at his point, I feel no desire to focus any more on the lives of these terrorists, or even to name them specifically, as that gives them a level of infamy that they do not deserve.

In the last two days, there have been over 160 raids on suspected Jihadists living in the EU and 23 people have been taken into custody. Additionally, France has started bombing Syria and is calling for the creation of an international coalition to destroy ISIS.

Learning from the Mistakes in the War on Terror

When the USA was attacked by Al Qaida and Bush used it as an excuse to start bombing the entire Middle East, France objected, and for good reason. In order to avoid making the same mistakes France must take its own advice and not repeat our mistakes. If they do not learn from history, the consequences could be dire (ex. our mistakes in Iraq created ISIS in the first place).

First and foremost, we cannot take the advice of lunatics like Ted Cruz, who released a statementthat the proper response to this attack was to ramp up bombing in the Middle East and disregard concerns over civilian casualties. In fact, he went as far as to say that:

“It [ISIS] will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life. We must make it crystal clear that affiliation with ISIS and related terrorist groups brings with it the undying enmity of America—that it is, in effect, signing your own death warrant.”

Basically, this means that ISIS has so little concern for human life that it justifies the west being even less concerned for human life and bombing without any care for collateral. This is the absolute worst thing that you could do in this situation, as it eliminates our moral high ground against the terrorists and will only create more support for extremism.

While targeted bombing (ex. against a ISIS troop convoy outside of civilian areas) is certainly a valid tactic, a massive bombing campaign that kills innocents around ISIS targets will cause the Syrian and Iraqi people to align behind the people who they see as their only hope of repelling the western invaders. This is a certain way to strengthen ISIS and would be playing directly into their hands.

Second, we must not blame the Syrian refugees who are fleeing the violence of ISIS or stop letting them settle in new homes across the world. These people are just as much victims of ISIS as the French citizens who were killed and putting the blame for the actions of ISIS on these people is simply wrong. The west must not close the doors for these refugees and should continue all resettlement efforts.

While many people have thrown up the bogeyman of ISIS terrorists masquerading as Syrian refugees, the scary fact is that ISIS has grown strong due to foreign fighters. Exact figures are very hard to pin down on this, but hundreds of EU residents have been confirmed to have traveled to Syria in order to fight for ISIS. These are EU citizens with western passports, cultural knowledge, and contacts.

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Put simply stopping the flow of refugees out of a fear that ISIS will tag along is a non-issue, as they are already here (the west). They are radicalizing dispossessed western populations in western mosques and have no need to sneak in with the refugees. This is confirmed by the early reports of who committed these attacks and it appears that none of them were at all associated with refugee resettlement efforts.

Third, we must not let fear over these terrorists make us forget our values. Free speech, personal privacy, and the rule of law are all values that should not be infringed based upon fear. While the EU nations and the USA have varying levels of these freedoms, we must not let any of these nations backslide and start reducing its civil protections (ex. domestic spying, prior restraint of speech, criminalizing dissent, restricting religious liberty, committing torture etc.). The terrorists may be able to kill people in the west, but we shouldn’t let them force us to compromise our values and make us even a little bit more like them.

Finally, we must not fall into the trap of nationalism and bigotry in the face of an external threat who is “other.” Right wing nationalists (ex. the National Front in France or the Tea Party in the USA) and xenophobes will use these attacks to stir up hatred for Arabs, immigrants in general, Jews (because, of course, there are always imbeciles who think that the Jews are behind everything) and basically everybody who doesn’t fit their perception of “western.” They will paint a picture of “white people vs everybody else” and try to bootstrap oppressive policies into the justified public outrage over these attacks. This is likely to take many common forms, including calls to expel or detain random Muslims, limits on the freedom of minorities to practice their religion (ex. banning new mosques), or racist vigilantism targeting minority groups.

That said, we cannot lose track of the simple fact that these terrorists are religious extremists and are part of a larger Islamist movement. Ignoring the theological backing (the Quran directly demands terrorism in several verses, including 3:151, which reads “”We shall cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve because they ascribe unto Allah partners [other gods], for which no warrant hath been revealed.”) for this terrorism out of a fear of criticizing Islamic teachings is simply wrong and counterproductive. A literalist interpretation of Islam is a serious threat, particularly in the EU, where large populations of Muslims suffer from chronic unemployment, few job prospects and little hope for the future—three things that make them very vulnerable to radicalizers. The government must work with moderate Muslims to combat this radicalization and try to increase the amount of cultural assimilation that occurs in these communities through more outreach. If the west can create inroads into these communities and improve their economic situation, it can reduce their vulnerability to radicalism and make it more possible for them to police themselves against Jihadi influences.