Academic journal article American University Law Review

Beyond the Paris Attacks: Unveiling the War within French Counterterror Policy

Academic journal article American University Law Review

Beyond the Paris Attacks: Unveiling the War within French Counterterror Policy

Article excerpt


"France is at war! Perhaps. But against whom or what?"

-Olivier Roy1

"And because the lights of Paris epitomize cultural secularism for the world and thus 'ignorance of divine guidance' [for ISIS], they must be extinguished . . . ."

-Scott Atran and Nafees Hamid2

Clichy-sous-Bois, known as the City of Lights, is the darker side of Paris. On the far eastern end of the city lies France's "most notorious" ghetto; the cradle of the demographic threat currently gripping the nation's imagination.3 The city offers a rugged and lurid portrait of the isolation plaguing France's Muslim citizens: a second city on the fringes, where young girls in headscarves zigzag past elderly patriarchs donning beards and kufis,4 all treading atop the very same concrete that spawned France's most explosive riots more than a decade ago.5

Clichy-sous-Bois is simultaneously inside and outside of France: although a French suburb, it is perceived as a breeding ground for homegrown radicalism and extremism. It is a liminal space where culture wars with Islam are fought, ground zero for the proliferating war against Muslim radicals. As one of many French Muslim communities that embody the State's most intimate and existential fears, Clichy-sous-Bois sourced several of the culprits involved in the Paris Attacks of November 13, 2015.6

On November 13, 2015, shortly after 9:00 PM, "[t]hree teams of Islamic State attackers acting in unison carried out the terrorist assault in Paris," ultimately killing 130 people and wounding 352 others.7 The site of the first attack was an international soccer match between the French National Team and Germany at the Stade de France, attended by President Francois Hollande.8 Subsequently, the attackers bombed multiple popular restaurants and cafes, and the conspiracy concluded with several explosions at the famed Bataclan concert venue.9 Though the 11/13 Paris Attacks came on the heels of the January 7, 2015, Charlie Hebdo Attacks, because the 11/13 Attacks produced tenfold more victims,10 some refer to it as "France's 9/11."11

The Paris Attacks were, collectively, France's deadliest terror attack and a critical existential impasse for the State. They compelled President Hollande and his administration to make policy decisions that have had, and will continue to have, deep cultural and counterterror ramifications well beyond the horror of 11/13.12 Minutes after 11/13, the State heightened its urgency to combat homegrown Muslim "radicalization" within France.13 The identity of the culprits, combined with the Republic's ongoing struggle with Islam, led the State to frame the 11/13 Attacks as a symbol of increased radicalization within the "French Muslim community."14 The heightened urgency from the immediate wake of the November Attacks moved President Hollande to declare, "To all those who have seen these awful things, I want to say we are going to lead a war which will be pitiless."15

Although France does not keep an official demographic tally of its religious groups,16 a Pew Research Center study estimated the French Muslim population was approximately 4.7 million in 2010.17 At nearly eight percent of its aggregate polity, Islam is France's second largest religion,18 and its Muslim population ranks as one of the biggest in Europe.19 Consequently, the rising demographic, coupled with France's colonial history and modern "culture war" with Islam,20 conflates fear of radicalization with Islam, manifested by and executed against its established and still growing French Muslim citizenry.21

French fear of Muslim radicalization is not only shaped by religion but also race and gender. In line with embedded "Orientalist" tropes and modern caricatures,22 fear of Muslim violence takes on a specifically masculine and "Arab" form.23 Today, the bearded and brooding recruit of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)24 occupies the primary discursive conception of the Muslim terrorist. …

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