Paris Attacks Target Multiculturalism

Josh Ashkinaze, Columnist

The Paris terrorist attacks were shocking, but one particular detail was especially surprising: One of the suicide bombers who attacked the Stade de France was a Syrian refugee, according to his passport. The document lay next to him, suspiciously intact, despite the condition of his body. This led some French officials to suspect that the passport was planted by a member of the operation. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that a jihadi carrying out the last action of his life would simply forget that he had his passport on him. If the passport that identified the terrorist as a Syrian refugee was deliberately planted, which it seems to have been, this gives insight into the goal of the act: to shake France’s values of diversity and multiculturalism. At least one of ISIS’ desired responses was xenophobic backlash against refugees and Muslims. This would cement the narrative of the West’s war on Islam.

This becomes more apparent when considering ISIS’ official statement in praise of the attacks. The organization clearly framed the attack as part of some neo-crusade. The attackers were “a group of believers from the soldiers of the Caliphate” who were sent to “cast terror into the hearts of the crusaders in their very own homeland.” Xenophobia would only cement that narrative.

The conveniently placed passport isn’t the only indication of their desire to generate backlash against Muslims. The attackers did not target the tourist-heavy Champs-Élysées or the conservative left bank, home to government ministries. The six attacks were at La Belle Equipe Cafe, Boulevard Voltaire, Bataclan Concert Hall, Restaurant Casa Nostra, Le Petit Cambodge restaurant and the Stade de France. The neighborhoods that were attacked were the most ethnically and economically diverse. The French soccer team has long been seen as an example of a multicultural France. The attack was aimed to shake diversity and multiculturalism because in the absence of these values, ISIS’ neo-crusader narrative can flourish.

In the wake of ISIS’ losses and slowdowns, its military invincibility is a tougher sell for prospective recruits. The supposed animosity of ‘crusaders’ toward Muslims might play a larger rule in its recruitment strategy. To some degree, this goal was accomplished with the anti-refugee backlash that is inextricably linked to ethnicity and religion. Poland, for example, swiftly announced it would defect from the EU quota agreement and not accept any migrants. Florida Senator Marco Rubio said, “This is a clash of civilizations … There is no middle ground on this.” As of Nov. 18, more than half of U.S. governors have refused to allow any Syrian refugees into their states, likely because of the intact Syrian passport. Indeed, the ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative allows ISIS to appeal to its potential constituency just as much as it allows the GOP to pander to its supporters.

The Charlie Hebdo shooting was, at least superficially, an attack on free speech. People could sensibly react by upholding that positive value. But last week’s attack targeted public places. It’s the very senselessness of the attack, the fact that victims could not be accountable in any conceivable way, that makes it so tragic. And in a void of senselessness and reason, visceral reactions — like xenophobia against refugees — could flourish. But if the goal of this attack was to get France to abandon its values of diversity and multiculturalism and affirm the ISIS vs. crusader narrative, a healthy strategy is to uphold those values. The attacks might seem random. But a central thread linking all of the sites was cultural pluralism. After the Charlie Hebdo attack, people affirmed free speech. After this attack, it’s crucial to hold onto rather than relinquish faith in multiculturalism.