Paris attacks: We are all victims of Black Friday

Islamic State’s strategy is manifest – to create the conditions for a racial, or religious, civil war

John Lichfield
Saturday 14 November 2015 19:08 GMT
It was the 'young, tolerant and carefree' who were targeted
It was the 'young, tolerant and carefree' who were targeted

There can be nothing more Parisian than a restaurant or café terrace on a balmy evening, though balmy evenings in November used to be rare.

The terrorists who machine-gunned pavement terraces in the 10th and 11th arrondissements of the French capital chose their targets with care. This is the Parisian Hackney – a once-gritty haunt of the young and trendy.

The kind of people who drink or eat on the rue de Charonne or on the rue Bichat, or who attend gigs at the Bataclan rock venue, are not supporters of Marine Le Pen or even Nicolas Sarkozy. They are young, liberal-minded and tolerant – precisely the kind of people that Islamic State, and its deluded minions, most despise.

After the jihadist attack on Charlie Hebdo 10 months ago, the Western world decreed that an attack on a satirical magazine was an attack on all of us. A slogan swept the globe: “I am Charlie”.

What slogan could possibly encompass the random carnage of Black Friday, 13 November 2015? Restaurant- and rock-concert-goers were slaughtered – not because they were cartoonists, or Jews, or policemen, or soldiers, but because they were French and because they were young, tolerant and carefree.

There is no point in proclaiming our solidarity or kinship with the victims of the multiple massacres of Paris. They are already us; and we are already them.

The jihadist war against the West has entered a horrifying – and horrifyingly predictable – new phase. How can any government protect every bar or every concert hall or every sporting event?

This was the primary message of the kamikaze bombers and gunmen. You are all targets now.

President François Hollande spoke of a “war on France” waged by a “terrorist army, the Islamic State”. He called on France to close ranks against “barbarism” to defend the “values of our country which are the values of humanity”.

Hollande called on France to close ranks against “barbarism”

The likelihood is, however, that many of the eight terrorists who died in Friday’s outrage were French-born and educated in the humanist, universal values of the French Republic. More than 1,000 French men and women, young Muslims or Muslim converts, have joined the ranks of the Islamic State group.

Some have returned, disgusted by what they have seen.

Others have almost certainly returned to attack the country that reared them.

The overwhelming majority of France’s 3,000,000 Muslims are law-abiding , hard-working citizens. All the same, the alienation of many second or third generation immigrants – not all of them Muslims – exploded in suburban riots exactly 10 years ago.

Strangely, it seemed to many at that time, the disturbances were confined almost entirely to the banlieues, or multiracial, hard-scrabble suburbs. The rioters made few attempts to penetrate the invisible force field of white middle-class affluence and opportunity which protects large towns and cities.

That was the other message of the Black Friday murderers – you, the well-heeled urban French, are no longer immune to the troubles of the darker, harder world beyond the Paris ring road.

I spoke recently to a community leader in Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 riots began. Nothing much had changed, he said, in terms of opportunity for the poor, suburban young. What had changed in the past decade was the spread of religious extremism.

The 2005 riots were apolitical, an explosion of anger against the police, he said. Ten years on, a minority of that rioting minority has – like some young Muslims in Britain or Belgium or Germany – converted their disaffection into support for the morbid, anti-Western, but also anti-Islamic, ideology of Islamic State.

The strategy of IS is manifest: to fuel the suspicion, or even hatred, of Islam and Muslims which is already widespread in France, and to create the conditions for a racial, or religious, civil war.

In its statement claiming responsibility, Islamic State said the targets had been “carefully chosen”. All the attacks occurred close to the Charlie Hebdo offices.

More to the point, they concentrated on a sector of young Parisian society which is usually resistant to the anti-Islam – not just anti-Islamist - drum beat of the French right.

Far-right and hard-right politicians were already talking excitedly of the need for repressive measures to respond to Friday’s slaughter. The Front National could hardly contain its glee at the impact that Black Friday may have on its vote in regional elections next month and the presidential election in 2017.

More repression. More alienation. More division. More violence.

The alternative path is equally clear but much harder to follow. The “majority” community must be firm with the terrorists but reject facile anti-Islamism. Muslim leaders must act more strongly against the vile perversion of their religion by the jihadists.

We may or may not all be “Charlie”. We are all – whatever our race or religion – victims of Black Friday.

The 13th November – or 13/11 – could be the beginning of our fight-back; or of our descent into Hell.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in