The Terror Returns to Paris
"Terror" has worn many faces in Paris over the past 225 years.
First there was la Terreur, in the early 1790s when the French Revolution spiraled into a orgy of bloodletting. Then came the extra judicial executions of the brief Paris Commune of 1871.
Barricade during Paris Commune of 1871
The 1890s witnessed the rise of the anarchists who planted bombs in the French Chamber of Deputies and in French cafes; The Second World War saw the French Underground's relentless sabotage of German occupied Paris before its liberation in August, 1944; and in the 1970s, a host of European and Arab terrorist groups including the Red Army, Bader Meinhof Gang, the PLO and the PFLP slipped through the city, threatening kidnappings, hi-jacking and bombings.
In every instance citizens of Paris always seemed to believe that the latest outbreak was only a temporary virus that would soon enough pass through their system and be expunged.
The blood had not yet dried in the editorial meeting room of Charlie Hebdo Magazine in Paris on Wednesday, before commentators were making the very same assumptions, labeling the Parisian atrocity an isolated attack unconnected to either the rise of militant Islam or the civil disturbances that have streaked European society with blood in the past ten years.
In some ways they are right. This is no longer the kind of terror to which we have become accustomed. It is actually something very different.
As of this writing the full Muslim affiliations of the three killers are unknown. But what investigators may well uncover is that these men, much like Man Haron Monis in Sydney last month, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale -- the beheaders of British soldier Lee Rigby in May, 2013 and Mohammed Bouyeri, the murderer of Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh in 2004 are freelancers, not officially connected to any one Islamic militia or terrorist group, but nevertheless acting in their general name.
Which is to say that al Qaeda and Islamic State in the short time of their existence have created an international brand that they have now successfully marketed and franchised to young jihadists. In this new world of Islamic jihadism, the description “terror” is almost passé. It belongs to another age when terrorism operated largely as political theater -- spectacular missions carried out to bring attention to a cause -- with the death of individual citizens only incidental to the publicity value of an attack.
The New Jihadists however are not interested in publicity. They are only concerned with enforcement. Specific individuals are targeted for assassination for crimes of having violated a religious precept or defamed the religion's central inspirational leader. This may end up being a crime as simple as wearing a revealing skirt on a subway or reading a secular newspaper that has at one time or another produced editorials critical of Islam. In such instances, judgment and execution are swift and merciless. It resembles the summary and spontaneous justice of the Brown Shirts rather than the planned revenge killings of Black September or the Red Brigades. In this way, the New Jihadism becomes a political instrument, a means of imposing compliance through the spread of absolute fear. The New Jihadists do not need to win an election to accede to power. In this new world, what we consider as traditional political power is superfluous. What counts is who rules the streets -- and those who rule the streets are the ones prepared to enforce their own view of the world in as draconian manner as possible.
What it means for the media is that those columnists, commentators, cartoonists and satirists who would think of addressing the rise of militant Islam in their writings and editorials must think twice and thrice about it. And they must not only think about their own lives, but also the lives of their families, of their editors and of even their readers. The effect is to send a shiver of dread down the spine of a democratic society and to shutter free speech behind a wall of fear.
In the wake of the Charlie Hedbo massacre Western leaders remain defiant, but that defiance looks and sounds hollow. Throughout the West, we have seen how Britain's libel laws, which have acted as an effective means to squelch free speech, have been exported to the continent and transformed into nonsensical sensitivity laws, which essentially forbid any verbal or written connection between Islam and terrorism.
This only serves to freeze resistance to the Islamic stranglehold enveloping Europe and to create a climate of passivity in the face of the most brutal atrocities.
We have watched too long as European leaders increasingly succumbed to the giddy romance of multiculturalism, certain that their Muslim populations would eventually assimilate into mainstream European civilization. That they have not and have turned hostile to their host countries is as much an indictment of failed policies as it is of the weak kneed and facile individuals who lead the continent today.
But beware. If the modern history of Paris is any guide, the citizens of that city won't tolerate weak leadership for long. When politics indeed moves to the streets, then expect to the hear the age old cry of the Parisian demonstrator, determined -- via revolution against his failed rulers or by aggressive anti- Muslim agitation -- to defend his city and his way of life:
" To the barricades!"