Why does France keep getting attacked?

A round-up of the most prominent theories seeking to explain the recent spate of attacks in France

People react at the scene of a terror attack on the Promenade des Anglais on July 15, 2016 in Nice, France. A French-Tunisian attacker killed 84 people as he drove a lorry through crowds, gathered to watch a firework display during Bastille Day celebrations. The attacker then opened fire on people in the crowd before being shot dead by police. (Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)

People react at the scene of a terror attack on the Promenade des Anglais on July 15, 2016 in Nice, France. A French-Tunisian attacker killed 84 people as he drove a lorry through crowds, gathered to watch a firework display during Bastille Day celebrations. (Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)

Yesterday’s Nice attack is the 10th suspected jihadist attack in France in the last year and a half. More than 200 people have been killed in the three highest-profile incidents: 17 in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015; 130 in the Paris attacks in November 2015; and at least 84 during the attacks in Nice yesterday. Details are still emerging on the motivations of 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the man police say carried out that attack.

So far, it is known that he was not very religious and had a history of domestic violence. The debate over the broader issues surrounding why France is a particular target for Islamic militants is already in full swing. These are the most prominent explanations.

1. ISIS’s propaganda falls on particularly receptive ears in France. According to the Soufan Group, a New York-based security firm, 1,800 people had left France to join ISIS as of May 2015. That’s one of the highest per-capita rates in Europe. Belgium, which is a partially francophone nation, had the highest rate, with 470 people travelling to join ISIS.

Many experts argue this has to do with the high unemployment rates and social segregation of Muslim youth in France. In the suburbs of Paris, home to millions of Arab and African immigrants, the unemployment rate is over 50 per cent. France’s colonial history is taught cursorily, if at all, in French schools, leaving plenty of room for Islamist groups to offer their explanations for why France has so often been at war against Muslim countries.

George Packer wrote a lengthy profile for The New Yorker in August 2015 titled: “The Other France: Are the suburbs of Paris incubators of terrorism?” Packer outlines the feeling amongst many Muslims of being constantly under attack — whether through government statutes like the 2004 law banning religious symbols in schools, or vigilante violence like the mosques that were fired upon after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

2. French police are falling down on the job. Ten days ago a committee set up by the French government delivered its report on why France keeps getting attacked. The report pointed to failures in policing. All the French citizens who committed attacks in 2015 (and Lahouaiej-Bouhlel) were previously known to law enforcement. Part of the problem is a lack of cooperation between different branches of law enforcement.

Many militants were radicalized in the French prison systems, where a prison intelligence department of 114 monitors 68,000 inmates and 235,000 parolees with little help from France’s much larger intelligence services. The report also flagged France’s failure to integrate North African immigrants into society and the country’s colonial past as factors making young French people prone to radicalization.

3. ISIS singles out France for its disproportionate military engagement with Islamic militants. Witnesses to the attack on the Bataclan nightclub in Paris said one of the gunmen shouted “This is because of all the harm done by Hollande to Muslims all over the world.”

The gunman was referring to French President François Hollande, who launched airstrikes against ISIS in Syria in September 2015. France has been extremely willing to deploy troops to combat Islamic militants in recent years. In 2015, France had 3,000 troops stationed across Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in an effort to combat Islamic militants in the Sahel region of Africa as part of Operation Burkhane.

In 2013, France deployed 4,000 troops to Mali to push back al-Qaeda-linked groups that had captured large swaths of territory. France aggressively pushed for a no-fly zone in Libya in 2011. In 2015, Hollande announced he was ready to strike extremists on the Libya border again. ISIS points to France’s aggressive use of military force in recruiting materials and has heralded their past attacks as retaliation for French airstrikes in Syria.

4. “They hate our freedoms,” is how George W. Bush explained the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Writing in the Guardian today, Jason Burke outlines a similar argument. As he puts it: “France is seen as an atheist power which is both defending Western ideals such as human rights, free speech and democracy and, in the eyes of jihadis, trying to impose them on the Islamic world.” Burke argues that militant groups target symbols of French life and ideals—such as making an attack on Bastille Day, a national holiday commemorating the ideals of the French revolution.

Burke’s explanation focuses on France’s history of secularism and the strict limits the country places on religious expression as well as the pride many French people take in things like the Charlie Hebdo magazine that regularly mocks Muslims. U.S. Republican leaders are echoing Bush’s argument, placing the conflict with Islamic militants in civilizational terms.

As Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence tweeted: “Today’s terrorist attack in France is a horrific reminder of the threat facing Western civilization. This must end.” Former House Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich put it even more bluntly on Fox News, saying: “Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in sharia they should be deported.”

Many have argued that framing the conflict in civilizational terms is exactly what ISIS wants, because if everyone has to choose one side or the other ISIS hopes many Muslims, given no other choice, will flock to its cause. Murtaza Hussain has a lengthy explanation for this theory in The Intercept. A comprehensive defence of the “clash of civilizations” theory was penned by Fred Fleitz for the National Review.


Why does France keep getting attacked?

  1. It is not only France that is being attacked.

    There are much increased physical and sexual assaults on women throughout Europe. “Merkel’s migration” f(rom all the messes Obama’s and Hillary’s foreign interventions have created) is making Europe unsafe for women.

    The increased threat to women is the most significant story that is NOT being told by the media or European politicians, because there are not large bangs associated with these assaults.

  2. France keeps getting attacked because they have a lot of Muslims in their country. The more Muslims you have, the more Muslim attacks you have. Just like how in Muslim majority countries you often have a lot of terrorist attacks, in addition to absolutely appalling human rights violations.

    The weird thing is, the strategy of hashtags, Facebook filters and calling everyone who is concerned about rising Islamic presence/influence a horrible bigot doesn’t seem to be doing anything to stop the attacks.

        • The dry cleaners called……your hood is ready.

          • So you have nothing, what a surprise. Good talk!

        • I have your hood, hon.

          Which means you can no longer hide.

  3. The radicalization narrative according to some:
    1. It’s almost all the West’s fault and if they weren’t involved, everything would normalize.
    2. It’s due to poverty and lack of opportunities.
    2. It has nothing to do with religion.
    3. Anyone who questions the narrative is labelled an islamophobe to try to shut down the conversation. Think Ben Affleck and Sam Harris/Bill Mayer.

    Sunni and Shia have been battling each other long before the West got involved. There are factions in each that often use the “no true Scotsman” fallacy to justify their actions.

    What would happen to the Yizadis, or any other minority group, if they West didn’t step in? Do we simply bear witness to gays being tossed off buildings, atheist bloggers hacked to death, sexual slavery, mass killings, torture?

    A sizeable portion of those radicalized aren’t poor and are well educated. However, let’s say they were from regions with few options. Isn’t it odd this type of radicalization isn’t found in other financially distraught communities. Why is one ideology the common denominator?

    When the attackers are chanting religious slogans during their acts of terror, isn’t that enough evidence of religious motivation? Some people think not – they must know the mind of the attackers better than the attackers themselves.

    When we should be supporting some of the biggest voices of reform, we often criticize. Think of Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Maajid Nawaz. Both have intimate experiences with radicalization and Islam, but these are the people student councils protest when they’re invited to talk. The irony is obviously lost on some.

    Shutting down the conversation is essentially the actions of those who tolerate intolerance. I choose to not to be.

    • The problem the west has is that most people are unaware of history…..and are therefore susceptible to any version of it online.

      The basics however are that the Arabs….who hhad a Golden Age…..helped us out of our Dark Ages and we repaid them by crusading . The Ottoman empire attacked them from the other side.

      This kind of thing sends most people into religious fervor looking for help. The Arab world, the Muslim world has had problems ever since

      We have continued with our attacks

      bin Laden told the west why we had 9/11 and we didn’t even get to hear his full statement. One of the things he said was that he’d break us financially……and all this hysteria is certainly doing that.

      We should get out of the Middle East and stay out

      • First you say this…

        “The problem the west has is that most people are unaware of history…..and are therefore susceptible to any version of it online.”

        And then you follow up with this…

        “The basics however are that the Arabs….who hhad a Golden Age…..helped us out of our Dark Ages and we repaid them by crusading . The Ottoman empire attacked them from the other side.”

        Your second statement betrays a deep ignorance of world history, and particularly the history of Islam. It honestly reads like you got it from a Salon article or something.

  4. We all know, that we all started our journey together in Africa. Thereby we are all distant cousins.

    Refer: The Incredible Human Journey– an excellent documentary

    But since then (about 70,000 years ago), we separated our ways and established our own civilizations.

    But here’s we are not talking about geographic separation and but rather separation of values.

    The fanatic Moslems of Pacific Asia has close affinity with their fanatic Malay brethrens.

    The group of people who are hell bent on terrorizing others (faking as innocent victims worldwide), cannot cohabit with “other folks” should be clearly shown the door and parceled out to deserts where they can live happily ever after.

    To be good neighbors–

    1. Each has to be respectful of each other’s dignity.
    2. Accepts co-existence as way of life.

    Unfortunately there are some examples to prove otherwise:

    1. India, as we know now was conquered by many foreign powers and some of them assimilated. Unfotunately with the Muslims, it was not the case:
    –One glaring exception was Muslims didn’t even after 1000 years. Rather the part they became majority, they created separate homeland (called Pakistan) and constantly behaves like foe.
    –To date, minority Muslim rulers are the only ones that imposed “Non-beliver tax called Jijya” over majority Hindus.

    2. In Kosovo, they couldn’t remain with Serbia.
    3. In Kashmir, after they have droven away all the minority Hindus, wants to secede.
    4. They cannot cohabit in Russia.
    5. They cannot cohabit in China.
    6. They cannot cohabit in Thailand.
    7. They now cannot tolerate USA.
    8. They cannot live peacefully with Israel.
    9. They cannot live peacefully in France and other places in West Europe.

    The story line is similar:
    1. These people play victims while terrorizing others in reality.
    2. They show severe lack of respect for the host countries.

    Are we naive to think only these fanatic people are victims everwhere? Only they are right, and rest all are wrong?

    Why it has to be “mostly” associated with this particular branch of our ancestors?

    • The above comment was published by me in Nov 15 2010 for an article published in The Economist magazine titled Re-frozen.

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