FSI scholars on Paris terror attack


The terrorist shootings in Paris have brought a new round of attention to issues of immigration, political polarization, religious discrimination and threats to global security. Scholars at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies are following the developments and talking about the attacks.

Cécile Alduy, is an associate professor of French literature writing a book on France’s far-right National Front political party and is an affiliated faculty member of FSI’s Europe Center. She is in Paris, where she wrote an opinion piece for Al Jazeera America and spoke with KQED’s Forum

David Laitin is a professor of political science and also an affiliated faculty member of The Europe Center as well as FSI’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. His co-authored book, Why Muslim Integration Fails: An Inquiry in Christian-Heritage Societies, examines Muslim disadvantages and discrimination in Europe.

Christophe Crombez is a consulting professor at TEC specializing in European Union politics. And Martha Crenshaw, a senior fellow at FSI and CISAC, is an expert on political terrorism.

How are Parisians reacting to the tragedy?

Alduy: The mood here is of grief, disgust, anger, and fear. We were all in a state of shock: a sense of disbelief and horror, as if we had entered a surreal time-space where what we hear from the news happening in far away places—Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria—had been suddenly catapulted here, on our streets, in our everyday. The shock has given way to mourning. Lots of crying, swallowed tears and heavy hearts. But there’s also revolt and determination to not let that get to us and to not let it succeed in reviving internal wounds.

I was surprised by the spontaneous quiet demonstrations and collective mourning happening all over France: that people would go out rather than hide in spite of the fact that two heavy armed gunmen were on the loose. It was such a naturally humane, human, compassionate response. It was a real consolation to witness this getting together, this flame of humanity and solidarity braving the fear and silencing the silencers.  

What can we say about the brothers who allegedly carried out the attack?

Crenshaw: Apparently they are French citizens of Algerian immigrant origin, who had moved into the orbit of French jihadist networks some years ago. They were both known to French and American authorities, just as the 7/7 London bombers were known to the British police.  One had spent time in a French prison for his association with a jihadist network that sent young men to fight in Iraq, and the other is said to have recently trained in Yemen.  In that case, he would almost certainly have come into contact with operatives of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (known as AQAP).  AQAP is an extremely dangerous organization in Yemen and abroad.  The U.S. has regarded it as a number one threat for some time – this is the group that sent the infamous Christmas or underwear bomber on a flight to Detroit in 2009.  Its chief ideologue, the American Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in an American drone strike in 2012. The fact that the terrorists were two brothers also brings to mind the case of the Tsarnaev brothers and the Boston Marathon bombing.  

What are the cultural and societal implications of the shooting?

Alduy: The event highlights a menace that had been rampant, and duly acknowledged by the French government: that of French-born radicalized Muslims going to Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq to be trained as jihadist and then coming back to conduct terrorist attacks on French soil (this was already the case for Mohammed Merah, but he was not part of an Al-Qaeda cell and acted all alone, as did the man who attacked the Jewish Museum in Bruxells). The cultural and societal implication is that we are now talking of being a country at war, with al-Qaida recruiting among us our potential enemies. In other words, France has to come to terms with the fact that its own values, its own political system, and its own people have been shot execution style in the name of the jihad by our own children.

Explain the extent to which Muslims are disenfranchised and discriminated against in France.

Laitin: Our book documents that Muslims, just for being Muslims, face rather significant discrimination in the French labor market. We sent out CVs to employers, comparing two identically qualified applicants, one named Khadija Diouf and the other Marie Diouf. Both were from Senegalese backgrounds but were French citizens and well educated. Marie received a significantly larger number of “call backs.” From a survey, we know that controlling for race, for gender, and for education, Muslims from one of the two Senegalese language communities we study have much lower household income than matched Christians. We connect this finding to that of the discrimination in the labor market. In our book, we search for the reasons that sustain discrimination against Muslims in France. Here we find that the rooted French population prefers not to have Muslims in their midst, and not to have a lot of Muslims in their midst. Tokens are O.K.

Meanwhile, Muslims exhibit norms concerning gender and concerning public displays of religious devotion that are threatening to the norms of the rooted French. We therefore see a joint responsibility of both the French and the immigrant Muslim communities in sustaining what we call a “discriminatory equilibrium”.

Can these shootings be attributed to those inherent tensions?

Laitin: There is no evidence that this discriminatory equilibrium is in any way responsible for the horrendous criminal behavior exhibited in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. There is a viral cult that is attractive to a small minority of young Muslims inducing them to behavior that is inhuman. The sources of this cult are manifold, but it would be outrageous to attribute it to the difficulties that Muslims face in fully integrating into France.

How will the shootings affect the standing of right-leaning political parties that have been gaining traction?

Crombez: I think the shootings in Paris will provide a further boost to the electoral prospects of France's extreme-right, anti-immigrant party, the National Front. Opinion polls in recent months already showed that it could emerge as France's largest political party at the departmental elections in March – as far as vote share is concerned – and that the Front's candidate for the Presidency in 2017 is likely to make it into, but lose, the second round run-off with the candidate of the moderate right, as was the case in 2002. The shootings will only have improved the Front's chances. Even if the election results are consistent with the polls taken prior to the shootings, and the Front doesn't do even better than the polls predicted, the dramatic results are likely to be attributed to the shootings.

And the long-term political fallout?

Crombez: The effects will reverberate throughout Europe. But as time passes and the shootings become but a distant memory, the effects will disappear. I would draw a parallel here with what happened after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan in 2011. In the following months Green parties did very well in elections in Europe at various levels, but after a year or so that effect seems to have dissipated. I would expect this to be the case with the shootings also, except if there are more such incidents to follow.