What We’re Reading About the Attacks in Paris

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The National Gallery in Paris, November 14, 2015. (Jack Gordon / Flickr cc 2.0)

The National Gallery in Paris, November 14, 2015. (Jack Gordon/ Flickr cc 2.0)

On Friday evening, terrorists detonated bombs and opened fire in crowded areas of Paris, killing at least 129. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. On Thursday, a suicide bombing for which ISIS also claimed responsibility killed nearly 50 in Beirut.

Keep in mind, of course, that this ongoing story is barely three days old and will continue to develop as new details emerge. Be wary, too, of glib, instant analysis or pandering rhetoric exploiting this tragedy for partisan gain. But here is some of what we’ve been reading about the attacks and their meaning that we have found helpful and thought-provoking.

    • The Paris violence did not target tourist attractions or government facilities, writes Manu Saadia at Fusion, and that was a clear choice: “They targeted neighborhoods where people are more inclined to be tolerant, liberal and progressive. And they targeted the greatest monument to France’s multi-ethnic, pluralistic success: the hallowed ground of the Stade de France.” That “multi-ethnic, pluralistic success,” Saadia writes, is a both a threat to extremists like ISIS and a desirable target primed to create chaos and division.
    • AND: Nitzan Horowitz at the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz: “Europe and the entire free world face dark days ahead. The cries of the victims lead to calls for war. In such situations, both there and in Israel, some commentators consider human rights an obstacle to fighting terror and lobby to remove all legal stops. No mistake would be greater. A democratic state is capable of fighting its enemies without losing its soul, and France knows this. It paid a heavy price in the past for straying from the democratic path.” ALSO: Emily Greenhouse at New Republic points out that many of the attacks took place on or near the Boulevard Voltaire, a street with a long and bloody history of political violence.
    • If, as ISIS claims, it is behind Friday’s onslaught in Paris as well as deadly bombings last week in a Hezbollah-dominated area of Beirut and the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, in just two weeks the terrorists have successfully brought terror home to three of its main enemies in the Syrian civil war. That would mark a new, more global strategy for ISIS, writes Daniel Byman at Slate.
    • The Week has a rundown of the many other countries that have been targeted by the Islamic State which includes the Beirut attacks: “… Many in Lebanon say they feel forgotten in the wake of the attacks in Paris. ‘When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colours of their flag,’ Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog.”
    • Historian and frequent Moyers & Company guest Andrew Bacevich writes at the Boston Globe, “Rather than assuming an offensive posture, the West should revert to a defensive one… Such an approach posits that, confronted with the responsibility to do so, the peoples of the Greater Middle East will prove better equipped to solve their problems than are policy makers back in Washington, London, or Paris. It rejects as presumptuous any claim that the West can untangle problems of vast historical and religious complexity to which Western folly contributed. It rests on this core principle: Do no (further) harm.”
    • Adam Johnson at AlterNet reports, “Muslims from around the world are making it clear ISIS does not represent their values.” BUT Charlie Pierce notes at Esquire that it is time for America to confront the Gulf States’ role in funding terror: “It is long past time for the oligarchies of the Gulf states to stop paying protection to the men in the suicide belts… It’s time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back.”
    • Marine LePen, leader of the National Front, France’s right-wing, anti-immigrant party, called on the country to close its borders to Syrian refugees. BUT, Rex Brynen, in a column at the American Jewish newspaper the Forward (headlined, “In Aftermath of Paris Attacks, a Lesson from the Holocaust”), writes, “First, it is important to recognize there is a risk that a small number of extremists might infiltrate refugee flows… The broader question, however, is whether fear of a few evil men (or women) will lead us to sacrifice our basic moral commitment to fellow human beings fleeing war, oppression and deprivation. I, for one, am not prepared to grant ISIS a veto over refugee policy or humanitarian obligations.”
    • Robert Kuttner at The American Prospect offers a list of takeaways on what the attacks may mean for American domestic and foreign policy, including gun control, our relationship with Israel, surveillance, and the 2016 elections.
    • ALSO: At The New York Times, columnist Frank Bruni warns about “The Exploitation of Paris,” writing, “Before we knew all that much about what had happened, before many Americans had even caught word of it, before the ones who were aware had moved past horror and numbness, Paris wasn’t just a massacre. It was a megaphone to be used for whatever you yearned to shout.” AND: Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post: “Events like the attacks in Paris should remind Americans of the stakes of the election next November… And yet, the process we have built to elect the person who will lead our country amid this dangerous world tends to accentuate the smallness of our politics rather than the bigness of the job for which these men and women are running.”
    • ALSO at the Post, Roberto A. Ferdman takes note of those who have exploited the Paris assaults to once again condemn gun control and says, simply, “There is… little evidence that more guns — especially in the possession of regular citizens—would do much to change the outcome when gun-bearing terrorists, bombs strapped to their chests, barrel through concert halls, sporting events, restaurants, and other public spaces.”
    • At Politico Magazine this weekend, journalist and Council on Foreign Relations fellow Graeme Wood questioned whether the Paris attacks were truly ordered by ISIS’s leaders, or whether the story is more complicated. He writes: “There exists a third possibility, somewhere between ‘IS did it’ and the increasingly far-fetched ‘IS didn’t.’ That possibility is something like ‘IS was surprised by what its supporters did — and maybe not altogether pleased.'” (ICYMI, Back in March, Wood spoke with ISIS’s ideological leaders and sympathizers for this Atlantic article, “What ISIS Really Wants.” The short answer: to draw the world into an ultimately apocalyptic war.)
    • Meanwhile, especially since Friday night’s slaughter, many world leaders, including President Obama, have more frequently referred to ISIS or ISIL as “Daesh.” The Boston Globe’s Zeba Khan explains: “The term ‘Daesh’ is strategically a better choice because it is still accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, ‘Daesh’ can also be understood as a play on words — and an insult. Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from ‘to trample down and crush’ to ‘a bigot who imposes his view on others.’ Already, the group has reportedly threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who uses the term.”
    • Flashback: In late August, The New Yorker’s George Packer wrote, “The Other France: Are the suburbs of Paris incubators of terrorism?” and found, “… The wound of exclusion has festered in French Muslims for so long that the subject of Islamist terrorism is almost too sensitive to touch. An honest conversation about it would require a degree of trust that hardly exists.”

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