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Terrorist Attacks in France

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France has had a long and varied history of dealing with terrorism since the end of the Second World War; this was mainly marked by the traumatic period of the 1960’s

Following the French government’s decision to abandon Algeria, it was faced with a coup mounted by elements from the French Army Parachute units and the Foreign Legion, who took control of infrastructure in Algeria but were unable to jump on Paris to see the coup through in 1961. France faced further unrest with the student violence of 1968, where there was a real possibility of the government being overthrown by violent unrest, this led to a massive military presence being deployed in the urban areas alongside the Police and Gendarmerie to contain and curtail the violence. In the 1970’s France had a quieter time than other European nations, with the major terrorist incident being the1975 hostage taking in Orly airport, Paris that resulted in French authorities providing the Arab terrorists responsible with a plane to fly to safety to Baghdad, Iraq.

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Since the start of 2015, jihadists have killed over 300 people and injured thousands more in a string of gruesome attacks in European cities. The assailants have driven trucks and vans into crowds, detonated suicide bombs, carried out mass shootings, and used knives and axes to attack, even behead, their victims. By and large, the attackers have been locals, but they have often received ideological support and practical instructions from members of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). In his new book, the French political scientist Gilles Kepel argues that among European countries, France has experienced the worst of this new wave of terrorism. Although the phenomenon of Islamist extremism “is not exclusively French,” he writes, “the French case is stronger and deeper” than the cases of other countries. Some 6,000 people, around 1,800 of them from France, have traveled from western Europe to join ISIS in Iraq or Syria or in one of the so-called caliphate’s “provinces” in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mali, or Yemen

When they return home, they form terrorist cells. The French-Belgian jihadist network, largely made up of returning ISIS fighters, has proved the largest and deadliest of Europe’s terrorist gangs, killing 162 people in multiple attacks in Brussels and Paris in 2015 and 2016. Kepel’s aim in Terror in France is to place the recent burst of jihadism in his country in the context of the political upheaval that France has undergone in recent years. He primarily blames Islamist fundamentalism for the terrorist threat but sees it as just one part of a larger rise in identity politics. In his view, this broader trend presents a profound threat to French society, as it is incompatible with traditional French ideals. For this reason, the book is not really about jihad “in the West,” despite its English subtitle. (The title of the French version of the book translates as The Genesis of French Jihad.) Rather, Kepel offers an impassioned indictment of religious and nationalist extremism in French politics, which, despite the recent election of the centrist Emmanuel Macron to the presidency, remains deeply divided.Kepel identifies two main causes of the jihadist surge in France: the Internet and the emergence of “ethnoreligous fissures in the social fabric,” which he believes are breaking the French Republic apart. “The departure [of young Frenchmen] for Syria to engage in jihad and undergo martyrdom there is the natural and concrete sequel of their virtual indoctrination,” he writes, although he does not provide much evidence to support this idea. He highlights the online publication, in 2005, in Arabic, of The Call for a Global Islamic Resistance, a long historical analysis of terrorist tactics written by the al Qaeda member Abu Musab al-Suri. Kepel mentions Suri’s manifesto at least 20 times. But as he acknowledges, there is little chance that many French jihadists have ever read it. Nevertheless, he suggests that Suri’s ideas inspired a new generation of French terrorists.

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To summarize, if you look at an 18th-century map of Paris, it is much the same, thanks in large part to that retention of a low skyline. It was much smaller, of course, extending west hardly farther than the Tuileries or east much beyond the Bastille

In fact, its perimeters then are essentially what Baron Haussmann was to turn into the Grands Boulevards during the Second Empire. Ten centuries of buildings sit side by side and, at the same time, assimilate the modern world in ways that no New World city can imitate. American historians of France have wrangled over the concept but not the experience of what is sometimes rightly or wrongly labeled “Frenchness.” I don’t quite believe in it. (The French are awfully like us.) But then what is it that keeps tugging at -- if you’ll pardon the sentimentality -- the heartstrings?

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