Before I jetted off for the start of my junior year abroad, friends asked me, why Paris? The most beautiful, sophisticated and romantic city in the world needs no explanation and the culinary options never disappoint. But in the brief three months since my arrival, I have been slowly seduced by la vie parisienne, the French ideal of being. I have developed habits and a daily routine embodying the French quality of life totally unlike my life back at Bowdoin from my strolls in the Marais, the city’s fashionable old Jewish quarter, and the Left Bank neighborhood of St. Germain, to reading a good book in the Jardin de Tuileries. Impeccably dressed men and stylish young women, who look like a million bucks even on a shoestring budget, are the norm. Getting lost in the maze of quiet twisty streets never fails to reveal a surprise or two, and who amongst us is not dazzled by the City of Light? The French way of lighting buildings and monuments is the best free show in town. Morning croissants, chocolate shops on almost every corner, mouth-watering baguette, stinky cheeses and really good cheap red wine — really, what’s not to love? As Gertrude Stein put it, “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.” Then, in a matter of a few hours last Friday night, this all ceased to matter.
The tragedy at the Bataclan concert forum where the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, played is particularly unnerving—it could have easily been a friend or me there that night, young people enjoying a Friday evening. The same attack could have been easily happened at The Monsters of Men and ODESZA concert venues I went to just weeks before. Both concert halls share a similar vibe and minimal security. Le Petit Cambodge, site to one of the attacks, is well known to any cool Parisian. ISIS’ target strategy was vindictive and divisive: the 10th and 11th arrondissements are young, demographically diverse, cosmopolitan areas. These neighborhoods represent the best of modern France: social and ethnic diversity in working harmony with the old Paris. The universal values of La République, the function of France’s very being, embodies the proud championing of equality, freedom, and desire for prosperity, prioritizing this over individual differences.
The year in France began with the Charlie Hebdo attacks, which traumatized the nation’s foundation and brought Franco-Muslim tensions to an unsettling boiling point. Jews and political satirist provocateurs were the target of the bloodshed. But France turned the page and life went on. Ten months later, France’s 9/11 has taken place. As George Packer of The New Yorker writes, “The Paris attacks were a shock, but not a surprise.” But he also acknowledges, “The scale of the carnage, the banal and carefree locations that the terrorists chose for their murderous work—these were hard to anticipate.” Many surmised, in the aftermath January’s massacre, it was not a matter of if, but when, another attack would be carried out. ISIS and its minions have a lot of support in the land of the “Crusaders”, which is to say Europe in general and France in particular. With anti-Islam sentiment growing, and France’s regional elections next month, the dangerous possibility of the far-right National Front party, led by Marine Le Pen, making major electoral gains is very much a reality.
The French government, and its partner allies, face monumental, difficult decisions. Western civilization will always thrive, even in the face of mounting threats of terrorism. ISIS and its partners are incapable of securing control of the Free World’s territory and resources. But, how does France balance national security needs with the civil liberties of people of interest? Is this, in, fact, a “war” against ISIS as President Hollande declared? The international fight against ISIS and domestic jihadism cannot afford to wilt, as defensive appeasement could trigger tragic consequences. The possibility of exercising Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is being looked at seriously. Accelerated, increased bombardment of ISIS controlled territories and oil fields in Syria and Iraq is a critical first step, exposing the jihadist organization at its core. France has not wasted any time in this, but to truly neutralize ISIS’ capabilities to plan and execute its international attacks, it needs greater support from its key partners in peace: the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Russia. But as President Obama has reiterated on the global stage, military action can only be one part of a long-term, broader strategy.
France must take serious steps to bolster its national security, and new laws to fight terror domestically are essential. But let’s face it, national security has never been a strength of the French—the Nazis took control of the country in just over a month. That the two leaders of the Charlie Hebdo massacre were French-born, and two of last week’s attackers are/were citizens of the nation, raises serious alarms about France’s ability to spot and stop its own civilians complicit in jihadism. Hollande’s support for creating thousands of more jobs in security forces is necessary to better protect vulnerable areas drawing tourist masses and to more thoroughly monitor activity in the banlieues. The French highly value liberty and detest the idea of government invading a citizen’s privacy, but serious deliberation must be given to passing to a piece of legislation, advocated by Hollande, that mirrors the controversial USA PATRIOT Act: “exceptional measures” during a time of emergency, granting powers beyond house arrests and searches, to best address the cyber efforts of aiding terrorism. But I caution France to tread carefully on this issue: suspending human rights, abusing a state of emergency’s intended period of duration, and ratcheting up the surveillance state too far can lead to more harm than good. The nation must work closer with Interpol and other governments to share sensitive information about suspect individuals and their associates. Dual nationals convicted of terrorism must be stripped of their French citizenship and detained. Imams in France who preach radicalism and calls to violence must continue to be deported. It is immoral and wrong to collectively group Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees with ISIS; after all, this is the very evil causing hundreds of thousands of refugees to seek asylum in Europe and elsewhere. But until France’s government is able to provide durable stability and security for the well being of the nation, its borders must be closed temporarily out of the sovereign responsibility to protect its citizens. The urgent need for tighter border control and screening processes revealed itself when one of the attackers made his way into and through Europe posing as a refugee, while the nature of his possession of a fake passport has mystified the international intelligence community.
The French government’s relationship with its estimated seven million Muslim community is complex and fraught. “Peace” is a two-way street, and President Hollande would be wise to show good will to them. Likewise, as The New York Times Editorial Board argues, the global moderate Muslim community, especially in France, needs to strengthen efforts, following 9/11, “to ensure their vision of a more tolerant and inclusive Islam prevails.” Solidarity between the non-Muslim and Muslim communities in France is integral to the heart of the republic. George Packer further writes, “The Islamic State inspires young Muslims, like the ones who wreaked havoc in Paris last Friday, by offering them the prospect of power, righteousness, camaraderie, and adventure in a world purified of contaminants.” Weakening the draw of this ideology is critical for severing the attraction to jihadism. The French government should invest in improving schools in the banlieues, invest in job training for alienated Muslim youth, and improve housing conditions within the decayed projects. You cannot have laïcité without égalité, especially in these areas of exclusion. Containing the spread of radical Islam in France relies on winning the trust of its Muslim community at large. Continuation of the us (French) and them (Muslims) attitude will only increase divisive tensions that make jihadism attractive to those who feel hopeless. The January incident of banlieue high school students refusing to observe the nationwide minute of silence must not become the norm. The French people’s growing anxiety about its Muslim community is understandable, but this is no excuse to stereotype and make innocent Muslims the target of hateful acts. With the inhibition of public marching in France lifted, imams and their congregations need to be on the front lines to denounce the terrorism that has twice stained this country this year. Social media videos and statements are far from enough; a public, large stand of condemnation is essential at this precious moment in time. France’s government and its Muslim community should heed to the words of Winston Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
A disturbing stillness descended upon this city last weekend, but I am confident that the strength and virtues of the French Republic will overcome the unspeakable tragedies of the past year. Across the city, cafes are bustling, businesses are open, the metros are cramped, and the line to enter the Musée D’Orsay is still too long! I experienced 9/11 as a New Yorker and witnessed first hand the incredible resilience and unity that brought the City back from the ashes of tragedy. Parisians have the character and will to do the same. I passed the Eiffel Tower lit up in blue, white, and red the other night, and I am reminded that the City of Light will always shine bright. France’s social fabric, grounded by humanist and universalist values, must be protected at all costs. When I asked an English-speaking Parisian friend the other day how she was doing, she shrugged. “The show goes on,” she said. She is right, life continues. Fear and panic are the currency of terrorists. Young people across the world, of different viewpoints, must be leaders in the discussion of the tragedy and its consequences. Sweeping the uncomfortable under the rug just is not acceptable anymore. The principles of France’s national motto, liberté, égalité, fraternité, must withstand all temptations of blind hatred and scapegoating for there to be a more peaceful future. Nous sommes unis.
Gabriel Frankel is a member of the class of 2017 studying abroad in Paris.