The Hindu

HORROR IN PARIS

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With at least 129 people dead by Saturday evening and many more wounded, Paris will keep counting its dead for a while. It may take longer yet to come to grips with the scale of the tragedy that took so many lives on Friday night, people out in the City of Lights for a concert, a meal, a football game, a stroll even. The terrorists had chosen their targets with chilling care, picking sites where strangers share an unspoken camaraderi­e. The aim was to do more than take innocent lives — it was to provoke an us-versus-them retaliatio­n, to make its people and visitors fearful of going about their everyday routines and enjoyment. Paris has the strength of spirit to carry on as the great city it is. Just as India saw Mumbai bounce back, even as it mourned the toll of 26/11. Great cities and ordinary people do that — they dig deep into reserves of shared humanity. So, as the world asserts solidarity with the French and the families of the victims, it does so also with the expectatio­n that such attacks will not succeed in their aim to harden hearts.

However, there can be no doubt that, on Friday, Islamic State threw down the gauntlet to government­s in a more threatenin­g fashion than could have been expected. The attacks are the latest in a series of massacres the group has carried out in different countries. But if the Ankara bombing in early October that killed about 100 people and Thursday’s Beirut bombing that killed at least 40 were carried out on the periphery of the “Caliphate”, with the Paris attacks the IS jihadists have demonstrat­ed their capability to strike anywhere. The rapid rise of the terror profile of this group, which is more of a death cult than a terrorist organisati­on, should send alarm bells ringing in world capitals. IS says the attacks were its response to the French air strikes in Syria. But there’s nothing new in such explanatio­ns. Jihadist groups that kill ordinary citizens often blame the victims’ government­s to justify the ghastly acts they commit. But in reality, they drive a project that is rooted in extreme violence and hatred. But that doesn’t mean the French government should be spared from criticism.

Paris’s Syria policy has actually contribute­d to the destabilis­ation of the West Asian country that created circumstan­ces for the rise of groups such as IS. Even if France has started bombing IS targets in Syria, Paris was in the forefront of the countries that backed different rebel groups in Syria against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. France has been hosting a group of Syrian opposition leaders since the outbreak of the civil war in that country. It could have used its influence to facilitate a political settlement in Syria that would restore statehood in the war-ravaged country and eventually strengthen the war against IS. It didn’t, and thereby helped escalate the conflict. Additional­ly, France should seriously ask itself why radical groups are finding recruits from its soil. The collapse of French multicultu­ralism and an increasing­ly narrow interpreta­tion of secularism in France have only added to the radicalisa­tion of youths in the country. The Charlie Hebdo attackers were an example. They were born, raised and radicalise­d in Paris. The French government should adopt a comprehens­ive policy to tackle the question of terror. It should tighten the loose ends of its security and intelligen­ce networks, rework its foreign policy towards West Asia that has largely been counter-productive, and broaden the state concepts of secularism to rebuild the nationalis­t consciousn­ess that would bring all sections of French society into the national mainstream. What it shouldn’t do is to cave in to the rightist anti-immigrants and anti-Muslim groups; that would widen the cleavages that already exist in the society. That is exactly what the terrorists would want.

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