The dignified narrative about death and loss that we see on televisions, bereft of gruesome imagery, masks the brutality that was unleashed in Paris by eight gunmen on the night of November 13.
Breaking out into three teams, the terrorists attacked restaurants, cafes, a stadium, and a concert hall, exploding suicide vests, mowing down civilians and often executing those crying out in pain — killing 129 people and injuring over 350 others.
French President Francois Hollande has called it an “act of war” by Daesh, the terrorist army in Syria and Iraq that calls itself the Islamic State (ISIS). Since 9/11, Western security agencies have been worrying about radicalised youth within their borders and the advent of the ISIS has made this a compelling issue in recent months.
The UN reported last year that more 13,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries had joined the group and the Al-Nusra Front. With Friday’s attack, the terrorists have shown that they are capable of waging their war in the heart of Europe — a manoeuvre which will have continent-wide repercussions.
The attacks will shape discussions about refugees from West Asia streaming into Europe and put pressure on social cohesion in France and other countries. Liberals will insist on protecting Enlightenment ideals and their way of life, while security agencies and political conservatives push for a more firm line on minorities and insist on their compliance with ‘European’ values.
How European states get the balance between civil liberties and security remains to be seen. The attacks will prompt a rethink of military strategy too, taking into the account its potential for blowback. The ISIS represents the attacks as a retaliation against France’s air attacks on group targets in Syria as part of the US-led alliance.
With these attacks in Paris, the suicide bombings in Beirut on November 12, which killed 43 people and wounded 239 others, and the presumed bombing of the Russian airliner, which crashed over Egypt recently, the ISIS has given an indication of its reach and capability.
The ISIS is attempting to restrain Western campaigns in Syria while at the same time pushing Western nations to formulate a coherent, vigourous military response in order to precipitate a confrontation that fits in with its apocalyptic worldview. Mr Hollande and other leaders cannot back down nor act in a way that fulfils the ISIS’ fantasies.
They also have to fortify internal cohesion, provide everyday security and maintain individual freedoms. A tough task even in the best of times.