I am trying to limit myself to what I think is important and that has not been said broadly in the media about terror already.
First, I want to find the silver lining in the sad events of 11/13/15 in Paris. The Islamist terrorists are not afraid of death, by and large, it should be obvious. I think they are afraid of failure. I also think the attacks on Paris largely failed. This may sound hard-hearted but there were only about 130 people killed in Paris after all, including the terrorists themselves. More Russian tourists were slaughtered only one week earlier over the Sinai.
You would think that four suicide bombers with explosive vests right outside the biggest sports arena in France during a major soccer encounter could have done better, killed many more hundreds, perhaps thousands. The truth is that they were unable to gain access to the stadium, or one or more of the assassins lost their nerve, or Paris security personnel was more effective that they have been given credit for. The opinion that they may have lost their nerve is strengthened by the fact that one bomber vest was found by a street sweeper on the other side of Paris on the Monday following the massacres. Paris police contend that cell phone calls tracked one of the major suspects to the location where the vest was found.
Second, the terrorists’ intent was almost certainly to try and trigger lynchings of people of North African origin. No such thing happened. Thus far, two weeks later, French people of all origins have closed ranks. Most curious of all is the absence or quasi-absence in the media of the Front National, a right- wing party reputed to be both racist and Islamophobic. It’s also probably the second largest political party in the country. (If it’s not, it will be in the next election.) Not much of a peep from the Front National. Another terrorist failure, the way I see it.
I have said it elsewhere before although we will never know the real relevant numbers. The concert hall attack was aimed at young people, of course. Demography being what it is, French Muslims and French people of Muslim origin are overrepresented among the young. The Islamist terrorists must have killed disproportionately such people, Ahmeds and Fatimas, more than Pierres and Maries. Their parents and relatives are not about to forget who killed their sons and their daughters. Many of the thousands who know Arabic are going to turn into so many valuable police sources in the future.
My Muslim friends and acquaintances have been seething with anger about a confusion that I don’t hear anyone committing. It’s the thought that “all Muslims are terrorists.” I have never heard anyone affirming or implying this, in English or in French, not even close. Something else is going on that is interesting in a sociology of knowledge sort of way. I think I know what it is but I will tell later.
A somewhat distantly related topic has reappeared in the aftermath of the Paris November massacres. The topic is the fact that several of the young people of Muslim background involved had a law-breaking past, including drug dealing. Islam does not approve of drugs or of drug dealing. A similar observation of closeness to crime had been made in connection with the January 2015 murders at Charlie Hebdo and at the kosher supermarket. All the assassins there were former delinquents; one had served hard time. Then too, family members stated that the terrorists did not give the impression of being especially religious before the events. This is becoming a repetitive theme: From ordinary crime and religious indifference shortly to violent jihadism. Hold the thought.
I want to put this observation next to something else. Sometimes in the past year, I heard a remarkable interview on French television. I believe it was on a weekly show called. “On n’est pas couché” that regularly demonstrates intellectual courage. The host was interviewing two French journalists who had been hostages of ISIS, one for nine months (How they obtained their freedom is a boring question; everyone in France believes the government simply ransomed them.)
The hostage longest held had lived in the Middle East for ten years before his capture. He said that his Arabic was good. I have no trouble believing this. If he bragged, there would be too many people in France with the linguistic competence to destroy his credibility. The man is a journalist; he can’t afford to take the risk.
I forgot that journalist’s name although he is fairly well known. Here is the most memorable thing he said (I paraphrase): When you live among Muslims, you get used to hear the name of God invoked aloud every few minutes, as in “Inch’ Allah.” In my nine months with ISIS, I heard the word only a few times, not even daily. The journalist suggests strongly that this is verbal evidence that the Islamist extremists are not “Islamic” in the usual sense of the word, that they may not be Muslims at all but simply youngish men on a savage criminal spree who encountered more military success than they even expected.
I don’t know how far I will follow this man, at this point. Two problems. First, he may be in denial, like many Muslims I know although he is not a Muslim himself. It’s not uncommon for religiously indifferent Westerners to fall in love with Islam, the culture and then, to feel protective of it. Second, if his hypothesis were 100% correct, one would still need to explain why the accompanying narrative is drawn from some interpretation of the Muslim religion rather than, say, from Lutheranism or from Hinduism. (Incidentally, I have already explored this issue in an article for Liberty Unbound: “Religious Bric-à-Brac and Tolerance of Violent Jihad.” )
I hope a Muslim or two will try to answer the last question on this blog. (Pseudonyms OK.)
A couple more words to end. A French Muslim leader, an important imam told the press several months ago, “Why do you blame the mosques for extremism? I wish it weren’t so but Muslim children spend much more time in school than at the mosque.” Point well taken, I think.