France, and the world, faces a new kind of enemy united in global militant Islamism. One of its strengths is our refusal to call it an enemy.
Once again, Islamist terrorism has reached out and wreaked havoc in the West. On Friday night, ISIS gunmen and suicide bombers took the lives of 129 men and women and injured hundreds more. In the midst of this horror, President Francoise Hollande declared a territory-wide state of emergency and closed France’s borders. This is the second state of emergency called in the French hexagon since 1945, indicating the severity of the situation, as well as the government’s uncertainty about how to contain it.
Sadly, though, France is no stranger to terrorist attacks. The Armed Islamic Group (one of the main insurgent groups in the Algerian civil war) was responsible for the 1994 hijacking of Air France flight 8969, and bombings in 1995 and 1996 that killed more than a dozen and injured hundreds.
These attacks were extensions of the ongoing civil war in Algeria, something that separates them from the more recent model of Islamist terrorism in France. They were perpetrated by Algerians in the context of France’s colonial past and the still-bitter memory of the Algerian war for independence. Their motivations were largely political and easily identifiable.
The new model of terrorism, which includes Mohammed Merah’s killing spree in Toulouse (2012), three separate incidences involving a stabbing and vehicle rammings by men yelling “allahu akbar” (2014), and the Charlie Hebdo massacre (January 2015), has more to do with religious fervor than political goals.
It is a new kind of enemy that France, along with the rest of the world, faces. It’s a threat that doesn’t belong to just one country or nationality, but rather is united in global militant Islamism. Because of this, it is far more dangerous.
Did Charlie Hebdo Teach Us Nothing?
Friday’s attack comes just ten months after Islamists gunned down employees at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing images of Mohammed. Afterward, there was international outpouring of sympathy with the twitter hash tag #jesuischarlie (“I am Charlie”) saturating social media.