The terrorist attacks in Paris the last few days seem to be a new “shot heard around the world.” Countless friends and acquaintances have pulled me aside to ask me what I thought about all of it and how I think the French are reacting, so let me spell my thoughts out in long form.
The Events of January 7-9
Let’s start by setting the stage. For any who missed some of the details, 2 muslim terrorists entered the Paris office of French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in the late morning of January 7, 2015. Armed with AK-47 assault rifles, they hold an employee and her pre-school age daughter at gunpoint and force the mother to let them into the building. Inside, they killed 12 people (both staff and 2 policemen) and wounded 11 others allegedly because of satirical cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Survivors quote them as saying “You will pay for insulting the prophet Muhammad.” They escape the building firing their arms into the air and climb into a black Citroen (French car). They have several run-ins with police and kill one more policeman, a French muslim who was scheduled to leave the force and become a detective shortly. They finally abandon their car after hitting a pole, steal a nearby woman’s vehicle and succeed in losing the police, but are soon captured anyway.
2 days later, a muslim terrorist who claims to be coordinating with the 2 from the Charlie Hebdo attack (they met in prison around the year 2000) takes a Jewish deli and all inside hostage, demanding the police release the terrorists. He holes up in the kosher deli several hours, during which time he kills 4 people and inflicts serious wounds on 4 more before the police takes action to enter the deli. They blast the doors, which had been booby trapped with explosives, and shoot this 3rd terrorist as he attempts to make a run for it.
The attack on Carlie Hebdo alone is the single bloodiest terrorist attack in France since 1961.
A Little Personal Context
I flew back to France to spend the holidays with my family December 18-27. During those 10 days in Paris, I was shocked to find a new terrorist attack featured in the news every 1-2 days.
December 20, 2014 – An armed muslim enters a police office in Joue-les-Tours (Western France, near Tours) and yells “God is great” over and over as he knives 3 police officers before another pulls out his gun and shoots him. Investigations revealed he grew up in a broken home, felt victim to the system, and was most likely seduced by the violent messages of radical Islam.
December 21, 2014 – A muslim driver hits 4 groups of pedestrians in Dijon (Eastern France), seriously wounding 2 and injuring 9 more. As police officers apprehended him, he yelled “This is for the children of Palestine!” Investigative services later assess he was not a terrorist but rather mentally ill. Nevertheless, copycat attacks ensue.
December 23, 2014 – A muslim drives his car all over downtown Nantes (Western France) attempting to hit pedestrians and shouts “Allah is great.”A mere 2 hours earlier, my father was there walking with his cousin and his wife and 2 young children. Again, investigative services decide this was not a terrorist act, but rather a troubled youth, possibly to avoid panic.
So How Did the French React?
We came together, bridging age, religion and culture to support each other. They took to the streets in cities such as Paris and Toulouse to proclaim that they’re not afraid and won’t be giving up their hard-earned right to free speech.
Liberty is one of the founding principles of France – our forefathers died for it during the French Revolution. It’s a deep part of our culture, as engrained as freedom and liberty are in the US. Freedom of the press is here to stay in France.
Another big message has been that not all muslims are terrorists. Muslims comprise approximately 10% of the French population. Outside of rural areas, all Frenchmen and women know muslims and count many among their friends. I’m proud to write that we’re not turning against all muslims because of the actions of a radical few. We know these are people just like us, who want to live their lives and know their loved ones are safe.
Lastly, the big message the French want to send terrorists is that we’re not afraid. We can see what they’re capable of, but we also see that their brethren are ashamed of their violence and barbarism, and we’re not going to cave in to their tactics.
Hopefully this sheds a little light on the recent events in France for everyone!
You can check out messages of piece, support and courage at #JeSuisCharlie and #NotAfraid.