Paris and after

November 22, 2015

The Paris tragedy has attracted a whole host of explanations…

Paris and after

On November 13, darkness fell over the city of light, Paris, when 129 Parisians were killed by a gaggle of bloody-minded killers with links to the ISIS in seven separate locations. This bout of gruesome mayhem came hard on the heels of the January massacre of the Charlie Hebdo’s staff and some shoppers in a super market.

The November massacre has brought home the reality of the ISIS expanding its murderous outreach from its base in Iraq and Syria to the Western capitals. The ISIS has grown out of the vortex of a particular set of Western policy failures in the Middle East.

When Iraq was invaded by the US and its allies, there was no planning beyond getting rid of Saddam Hussein; there was no follow-up plan to fill the political vacuum created by a stable, secular order presided over by Saddam Hussein. The result was the rise of religious parties of different colourations.

This gave birth to a sustained wave of religious extremist politics which shows no signs of ebbing. Without heed to the lesson in Iraq, the same strategy was applied to Syria. The strategy was Iraq 2 minus ground troops. In the euphoric flush of the Arab Spring, major regional powers aided by the West ganged up on President Assad with a view to ousting him without an attendant post-Assad plan.

Six years down the road, widely-held expectation that the Assad regime would fall at its first encounter with the externally aided opposition has not been fulfilled. Between the first opposition stirrings and now, the Syrian scene has become more confused with a whole host of religious groups springing up. Into this melee has stepped the ISIS which has come to control significant parts of Iraq and Syria.

Despite a broad coalition against Assad, the regime has hung on, protracting the civil war which has broadened into the larger Shia-Sunni conflict with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar and other Gulf states backing the Sunni groups represented by the ISIS and remnants of al Qaeda. These extremist religious groups, strengthened as a result, are expanding the war frontiers to Europe through their proxies born and bred in the West.

This unassimilated generation, unlike the old generation, is more prone to finding its identity in extra-territorial Muslim causes, such as the ISIS and al-Qaeda.

This murderous extension is demonstrated in a series of attacks, such as the 7/7 London bombing, Madrid rail bombing and now the two Paris atrocities within 10 months of each other. In almost all cases the terrorists are homegrown, born and bred in the West. The ISIS has claimed responsibility of carrying out the attacks in response to the Western military action in Syria and has warned of further reprisals.

The Paris tragedy has attracted a whole host of explanations. One narrative put these attacks as a retaliatory response from the ISIS to an ill-thought out Western policy in Syria and Iraq which has veered between the aerial bombardment, the on-off safe air corridors, supporting anti-Assad factions irrespective of their fundamentalist and extremist ideology.

Such a zig-zag policy has inadvertently contributed to the rise of a range of Islamist groups from al-Qaeda to the ISIS. Yet, this blowback explanatory frame is not being aired in the face of the sheer brutality of the terrorist acts.

The other narrative traces the roots of the terrorist acts by the home-grown terrorists to the long-standing issues of misaligned French assimilation and integration policies pursued in regard to the French-born second generation of the children of Muslim immigrants (France is home to 5 million Muslim immigrants -- the highest in Europe).

This unassimilated generation, unlike the old generation, is more prone to finding its identity in extra-territorial Muslim causes, such as the ISIS and al-Qaeda. Rejected and discriminated at home, these dissatisfied youth discover a sense of purpose and community with the nihilist ideology of the ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Read also: From al-Qaeda to ISIS

Within this narrative, the French policy of forcing down a singular version of history on the second generation without improving their life chances is also pointed out as one of the causes. In an effort to meld all new and second generation immigrants into a republican, national secular French one-ness, the country has imposed a draconian model of laicize which maintains a militant distinction between the church and the state.

This one-size-fits-all imposition ignores multiple histories of immigrants which are not taught at school. The result is that locally-born second generation immigration, neither of the old world nor of the brave new French secular world, fall prey to the nihilistic appeal of the global Islamic state.

France, unlike Britain, does not identify people by ethnicity. In addition, there is very little representation of ethnic minorities in the political life of the nation. For the first time in 2012 election only 9 out of 577 seats were won by non-white candidates, which is an increase of 8 seats over the previous elections. This has led to another explanation which is rooted in the conception of two models of immigrants’ absorption into the host population.

The first one is the French assimilationist model which rests on the conception of melding all immigrants seamlessly into the French notion of a secular civic citizenship. According to Kevin Malik, a writer on multiculturalism, when the 7/7 bombs went off in the London tube, the French experts called the attacks a failure of the British policy of multiculturalism whereby different communities were allowed to follow their cultural and religious tradition.

However, the two attacks on Paris this year have exposed the reality of the French model as being equally vulnerable to extremist ideology. George Packer of The New Yorker has written brilliantly on the growing alienation of the second generation immigrant youth from the white mainstream French life. A large bulk of the immigrant population is either rotting in the deprived suburbs or in prison (Muslims form the highest number of prisoners in proportion to the size of the population). This is where most of the terrorists get radicalised.

One of the lawyers specialising in representing clients alleged of Islamic terrorism has portrayed a similar trajectory of Islamic radicalisation in Belgium.

The twin terrorist attacks on Paris have spotlighted all these festering issues and debates. The way out of the morass the West and the Middle East are in only lies through promoting peace in the region. The twin tragedies have given fresh momentum to peace efforts. This should go hand in hand with wider internal reforms in making the alienated second generation of immigrant population an essential component of the West’s emerging story.

Paris and after