Friday the 13th 2015 marks the third time in the last 12 months that France has been attacked by extremists. More than any other European country it has been subject to consistent abuse at the hands of terrorists and with the Republic under fire and a state of emergency declared it's hard not come to the conclusion that these escalating "skirmishes" are the opening shots of transcontinental warfare by a non -state group. Recent attacks including the Charlie Hebdo incident and the beheading at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier.
Almost immediately on Friday, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media became filled with individuals pointing out that unfortunately this kind of event is a fact of life in the rest of the world. Only the other day Lebanon was attacked, and Iraq, Turkey and Tunisia before that to name only a few. Whilst that is perfectly true, it has been particularly striking in Europe at least that France has had three major incidents compared to its other European counterparts. The media should focus on all such acts of terror equally regardless of location and nationality but unfortunately this article isn't long enough to also touch the controversial subject of institutional bias/discrimination in the media or the way armchair diplomats on social media have exhibited selectively publicly empathize in their masses with one group of people experiencing hardship over another...
Regardless, rewind to January and Hebdo was like a needle that went straight through the heart of French society. Together with the Friday attacks they have caused what used to be known as a memento mori, a national reminder of their own mortality. We kind of knew that already though, people haven't forgotten New York, London, Madrid or the constant stream of government warnings about the increased threat level. What we're all still surprised by though in the 'west', which is itself such a loaded binary term, is that even today uneducated savages in caves from some no name backwater could come into our house, eat at our table and rip our hearts out with the cutlery.
Only this wasn't perpetrated by fools hiding in caves. This was perpetrated by students of terror clearly educated in the ways of Mumbai School, consummate professionals who coordinated possibly the most sophisticated multi-pronged strike that a western country has seen in the modern age with at least three teams working in perfect synchronisation. Multinational and well trained, the metastasis of Islamic state affiliates across Europe has evidently been happening at alarming rate for some time now.
However, why has France been attacked much more so than any other 'western' nation. Is it simply a matter of geography, not enough security measures, its foreign policy or the migrant crisis that makes France such a prime target?
As a scholar of foreign policy, a journalist and as a Muslim I'm convinced by none of these explanations. Already, on social media its being widely stated that actual migrants from the Middle East hate the Islamic State as much if not more than anyone else. Why? Because the Islamic State is the reason that these people have left their country for fear of their own lives. The biggest victims of IS are the Muslim inhabitants of the Middle East to which the people of Suruc, Beirut and the residents of Syira-Iraq can attest to. It also seems unlikely that weapons came through migrants. Sophisticated firearms most likely as it seems to be emerging arrived from every euro-terrorists' shopping mall of choice, the Balkan black market which operates outlets extensively across Europe.
Foreign policy only gives a little more clarity. France famously refused to participate in Iraq and in Afghanistan, 4000 troops as part of a large multi-national task force hardly stood out. Of course France like many nations takes part extensively in counter terrorism operations worldwide and as a result terrorist leaders routinely urged their followers to attack France; however they also call for actions against the rest of NATO, where several member states greatly surpass France's counter terrorism efforts. France has however been much more vocal on these issues that almost any of their counter parts not including the US and French diplomats are seen at the heart of several major foreign policy negotiation of the last 12 months such as foreign minister Laurent Fabius's visible role during the Iran nuclear negotiations.
No other European nation has also had more of a visible military footprint on the world stage. Whether it be France's, invasion of Mali, airstrikes in Syria and Iraq or an aircraft carrier heading towards the gulf, people have been noticing.
France was not attacked simply because of its foreign policy however. It was also attacked for its domestic policy. Admirable, almost fanatical devotion to secularism has unfortunately not brought about a harmonious society. The Chalie Hebdo attacks and the subsequent arrest of Charlie Hebdo critics the next day indicated that tensions had been building for some time. Growing support for the National Front and attacks on members of the Jewish community were other examples. However France has also long been lauded for its cosmopolitan society and as a society famous for is large Muslim population. "Clearly", beneath the surface there lies in fact a divided society. Islamophobia is indeed rife and whilst radicalisation is less so it is supposedly happening with an uncomfortable frequency. France's prisons for example have long been hotbeds of radicalisation according to former minister of Justice Rachida Dati, a special rapporteur on radicalisation who made statements that the French system was not doing enough to de-radicalise young isolated and vulnerable individuals seduced by powerful narratives. Well-meaning domestic policy sometimes executed clumsily coupled with a community who feels often under siege by the government and the media has certainly created a social environment filled with people who feel misunderstood, targeted and treated with a double standard.
However one must ask that whilst France certainly attracts scorn from extremists if France's particular interpretations of secularism is actually as major a factor as some might believe. No doubt there are for sure a minority of individuals isolated by French values and a microscopic minority who then become seduced by the terrorist narrative. However only one suspect has thus far been confirmed as a French citizen and whilst others are suspected to also be French, many are suspected to be citizens of Belgium and possibly Syria.
Whether you agree with France's interpretation of secular society or not, their aims are ones that all people should strive for, the idea of a free and equal society. Make no mistake these are the principles Islamic State was attacking and these principles continued existence are why they have ultimately failed in their endeavors.
Islamic State until now has been the enemy without, without conscience or morality or fear; yesterday they became the enemy within and have shown their brazenness and ability to strike at the heart of their foes. Often described as more concerned with establishing exactly that, a state with little care for external aggression and comprised mainly of former officers and soldiers from Saddam's army, it seems the organisation once known as Al Qaeda in Iraq has rediscovered its bitter inheritance and spent it in Paris with French liberty paying the cost.
Democracy often requires human life to be taxed in its noble and blood soaked defence; unfortunately such is often the price of freedom. However whatever happens in France s it should be known that the price extracted by IS has led to no great victory for them. They have failed in their wider goal of undermining the bedrock of French society for the time being, however know that the scars of Friday the 13th 2015 will never fully heal for many and the decisions made in the coming days and weeks will be felt for years to come.