Have the long-feared lone wolf attacks, possibly threatened by al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, begun? The twin massacres in Paris suggest that the Mideast’s mayhem and mass killings are again spilling over into Europe.
Paris remains in chaos. Its Peripherique ring highway is still closed, producing traffic madness across the capitol. Some 60,000 troops and police saturated Paris. As I write, there are reports of a new attack in Montpelier, in southern France.
I visited the Paris office of the French satirical magazine, “Charlie Hebdo,” while on tour for my last book. It was located on a non-descript street of the non-chic 11th arrondisement, a popular venue for youthful Parisians.
“Charlie’s” brilliant cartoonists were rapier sharp and merciless. They went looking for controversy and notoriety –and found it. Previous death threats and a past fire-bomb attack culminated on Wednesday in a commando-style assault by two masked men with AK-47’s, crying out “Charlie is dead!” Indeed, eight or more of its staff, a visitor, and two police guards were killed and others wounded.
The Muslim world and its leaders were special targets for “Charlie.” The magazine had a modest circulation. Like a right-wing Danish newspaper in recent years, the left-leaning “Charlie” provoked outrage and fury across the Muslim world.
In Islam, it is strictly forbidden to depict the Prophet of Islam. Doing so is one of the most serious provocations against Islam and a certain way to infuriate even moderate Muslims – though in no way does doing so justify violence. But many Muslim don’t think this way.
These mocking western media portrayals of the prophet were seen by many Muslims as part of a growing attack on Islam by the western world that began with George Bush’s invasion of Iraq – the Pandora’s box that has indirectly led to many of these outrages.
Shortly after the “Charlie” outrage, a French policewoman was gunned down and a Kosher food store seized by another attacker. Four people there may have died when it was stormed by French elite special police, the Gendarmerie Mobile.
The two men who attacked “Charlie” were cornered on Friday in a printing plant northwest of Paris. They chose to go down with guns blazing. The horror shows in Paris was over.
France has particularly suffered from the growing tensions between the West and Islam because it has Europe’s largest Muslim population – some 6.5 million people of North African and Black African origin as well as Europe’s largest Jewish population.
Making matters worse, most of France’s Muslims are third class citizens marginalized by French society and discriminated against, living in poverty with no prospects for their futures. They have become an angry, dangerous, alienated sub-class seething with resentment and prone to criminality. The French-born men of Algerian origin men who killed “Charlie Hebdo” came from there. The food market attacker was of black African origin.
Until recently, Islam meant little or nothing to young French of Muslim origin. Islam was the antique faith of their grandparents’ Africa. But the destruction of Iraq, Syria and Libya by the western powers released fanaticism and anarchism from out of the burning Mideast, and fury against the western powers, notably the United States and France.
To put things in context, France has emerged as one of the most active interveners in the Muslim world, conducting military operations in Libya, Mali, Chad, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Abu Dhabi, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Critics accused France of a new era of Mideast and African colonialism.
As France increasingly wages small wars in the Muslim world, Islamophobia is surging in France, propelled by continued immigration and the rapid rise of the hard right National Front.
I interviewed its founder, former paratrooper Jean-Marie Le Pen, 16 years ago. He claimed, “immigration equals invasion.” Muslims, said Le Pen, had to be expelled before taking over France.
Today, the National Front is led by his softer-spoken heir, daughter Marine. Her party is benefitting from the collapse of the French left and its much derided leader, President Francois Hollande. The National Front may actually win the next elections in 2017.
The “Charlie” massacre is a boon for all anti-Islamist and neo-Nazi parties across Europe. Islamophobia, the hallmark of most rightwing parties, is our era’s version of 1930’s anti-Semitism.
When Muslims kill, the crime become a political cause celebre that we call by the nonsense term “terrorism.” When Christians, like Norway’s Anders Breivik, massacre 77 schoolchildren, it’s just a crime by a madman. Western politicians have cynically used Islamophobia to advanced rightwing political agendas and curtail freedoms.
There has been a spate of attacks in France during recent months by individual Muslims who were either demented or crazed by ISIS internet propaganda. They, and the Paris attackers, have inflicted untold damage on their fellow Muslims.
Ominously, the leader of ISIS has called for waves of “lone wolf” attacks against Europe in revenge for its military interventions in Iraq and Syria. French security officials are deeply concerned by this threat. This week’s Paris attacks could be an opening salvo.
“The “lone wolf” attackers will be our versions of US drone attacks,” in the words of one jihadi.
France remains in shock. Those lamenting freedom of press should not forget western attacks on al-Jazeera bureau in Baghdad and against Serb, Iraqi and Libyan TV.
Let us also recall the sage words about free speech by US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter: freedom of speech is not absolute. It does not permit a person to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater.”
But nothing justified this week’s savagery in Paris.