Last Friday I was very sad to hear about the terrorist attacks in Paris. It turns my stomach to think of the people who died in that attack, who were going about their normal lives, attending a concert, and then suddenly being gunned to death. I hate to think of the pain and grief their friends and families will be going through right now, and will probably have to live with for the rest of their lives. I was disgusted, angry, upset and frustrated that this had happened again in Paris such a short time after the horrific enough Charlie Hebdo and Porte de Vincennes attacks. However, I was not at all shocked, or surprised that this had happened again.
I think since 9/11 I have always lived kind of expecting some kind of terrorist attack to happen somewhere in the western world. First New York, then Madrid, London, Boston, Paris, and now Paris again. These are but a few of the terror attacks that happen all over the world.
The thing is, no matter how much we want peace and for terror to be eradicated, I unfortunately think it is going to stick around for a while.
If we think about the 9/11 attacks, they took America by complete surprise, as this was the first time that America had been attacked on its own soil since World War II. The World Trade Centre was not only a building; it was a symbol that encapsulated the prosperity of financial capital, not just in USA, but in the West.
In the years before 9/11 there was a decrease in analytical international news in the American media which led to a widespread ignorance of the world’s view of their government’s foreign policies. Maybe one of the reasons that Americans were shocked by these attacks was this ignorance of world affairs and serious news created a perception gap in which Americans were not aware of international news or of the consequences that their government’s actions abroad might have on their country.
Ignorance of what is going on around the world leads to shock when the consequences show up on your front door. In some ways, I think the same could be happening with Europe. Just after the Paris attacks, Bashar al-Assad, the soi-disant president of Syria was interviewed about the attacks and he said the following, “you shouldn’t look at terrorism as separate arenas, like looking at Syria’s arena, Yemen, Libya, France. Actually, it’s one arena all around the world.” Now, it’s unfortunate to have to say this about such a hateful figure as al-Assad, but in this case I totally agree with him, and I think he is right. I think that western news reports tend to categorise terror, they report on a particular attack in a certain place, and don’t look at the links, the consequences, the connections. That is maybe why we are surprised when we are so viciously attacked in our own countries?
One of the things that I find most intriguing about both the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the attacks on the 13th of November, are the attackers themselves. There can be a tendency to mistakenly portray terrorists as bearded men who suddenly emerge from their tent in the desert, or the mountains of Afghanistan, but in both these attacks the people that carried them out were born in Europe, educated in Europe, lived in Europe. They were Europeans!
Take for example Chérif Kouachi, one of the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo attacks. He was born in 1980 in the area around the Gare du Nord in Paris. He was from a deprived Algerian family and was abandoned by his parents and ended up going into foster care and moving around. He gained a qualification in sports education but had a very poor education. He lived in north-east Paris with his brother in a very precarious situation.
Kouachi fell in with the Buttes Chaumont islamist extremist cell led by Farid Benyettou, their spiritual leader of sorts. In January 2015, The Guardian spoke to a source who knew Kouachi and they said “He was immature, just out of adolescence. He wasn’t vindictive … He went to the mosque, but went clubbing, made rap music, smoked hash, drank. He wasn’t a hermit,”
Kouachi was fascinated by Benyettou, who apparently used sect-like methods to lure young Muslims to extremism. The Guardian’s source said, “He made him feel important, he listened to him, recognised him as an individual … Chérif Kouachi was fragile, looking for a family … he didn’t have a family he could turn to for support.”
A similar story emerges when you look into the background of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the attackers in the 13th of November attacks. He was from a Moroccan family and he was born and grew up in Brussels, in the Molenbeek area, which has been dubbed as the terrorist capital of Europe. Abaaoud attended one of Belgium’s best secondary schools, Saint-Pierre d’Uccle, but subsequently dropped out or was thrown out. He got involved in petty crime and met Salah Abdeslam, one of the young men involved in the Paris attacks.
As I said, Molenbeek is known as being a the ideal breeding ground and hiding place for would be jihadists and terrorists. This area in central Brussels has an unemployment rate of 40% and there are thousands of Molenbeek residents under 30 without jobs. The area is also known for its connections with militant Salafism, which basically is a religious-political ideology which endorses violent jihad.
Once these young, unemployed and disenfranchised young men are radicalised by older ‘guru’ types then suddenly they belong to a group, they are important, they are, for the first time in their lives, not looked down on, they are wanted, needed, and glorified as martyrs for Allah. Of course, not all young Muslims in this area, or anywhere else in Europe for that matter, are potential terrorists, but they are definitely prime targets for Islamic terrorist cells such as ISIS who are looking for young people to join them and sacrifice their lives in the name of jihad.
In my experience of the “banlieu” in France, the situation is the same. Many of these young Muslims live between two worlds, the poverty of their areas and families, and the affluent central areas. Their Muslim identity is quashed and denied, an example of this being the banning of the full veil in public areas in France. However, these young people are still an integral part of the youth of Europe.
I read something recently in The Guardian that sums up exactly what I am trying to say.
“For the authorities there is a double lesson: invest in the future of the children (improving schooling), so that young adults see a future for their children (if not for themselves). Secondly: show respect for the inhabitants. Avoid facile slogans like “we will clean up”. Stop treating people as potential murderers, because they are not. You need them as a social cushion against jihadi-recruiters, drug dealers and hate preachers.”
We can’t turn a blind eye to the situations young Muslims are facing in Europe; we can choose to isolate them and demonise them as potential terrorists, but that leads them straight into the arms of terrorist recruiters. We can’t ignore what is happening in Syria, and in Iraq. Once young European Muslims are radicalised, they are already among us and have the knowledge and insight to attack Europe from the inside. European countries represent for these young Muslims the people that have marginalised them, ignored them, and treated them like inferior scum. Of course, it does not justify the attacks in Paris, or any terrorist action, but can Europe start to see the connections?
Another quote from al-Assad that struck me. He said, “We warned about what’s going to happen in Europe three years ago, and we said don’t mess with the fault line in Syria. It’s going to be like an earthquake that will reverberate around the world, and unfortunately the European officials didn’t pay attention to what we said. They thought that we are threatening, and they didn’t learn from what happened at the beginning of this year, from Charlie Hebdo.”
Al-Assad’s actions and true motivation aside, but I think we need to start asking ourselves; what can we learn from these attacks?