Opinions - 16.11.2015 - 00:00 

Paris attacks: end of play?

Prof. Dr. Emmanuel Alloa on the margins of democracy, which must be defended after the attacks of Paris. An opinion piece.


17 November 2015. Even though security services have kept on issuing warnings, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to prepare for such traumatic events as the latest terrorist attacks in Paris. Yet while Paris is still counting its dead, the question arises as to who exactly was targeted by this apparently meticulously planned attack. Obviously, this is not a French 11 September; it was precisely not a highly symbolic centre of power that was in the terrorists’ sights, neither a World Trade Center nor a Pentagon.

In Paris on Friday evening, it was not the President’s Palace that was targeted, nor was it the financial centre La Défense, the Eiffel Tower or the Champs Élysées. In contrast to the Paris Métro attacks in 1995 or comparable attacks in London (2004) and Madrid (2005), the terrorists did not choose any strategic transport hubs, either. This time, the attacks were aimed at a completely different target, which in contrast to such places is almost impossible to protect even with substantial security measures. It was the east of Paris, this particularly open, lively and diverse part of the city, in which experimental and riskier forms of life had their place and in which skin colour, origin and educational status became side issues.

Attack on the heart of democracy

What, then, if the attack on the east of Paris was not a makeshift solution but if the terrorists used it to aim at the heart of what constitutes democracy and threatens fanatical ideologies like that of the IS more strongly than fighter jets and bombs? In the east of Paris, there is a little bit more of this social permeability which is under increasing threat both in the French capital and in all other big European cities; here, in countless bars, students, hipsters and experts in the art of joie de vivre mix with party-hungry youngsters from the nearby banlieue. Perhaps some of the attackers still used to sit on one of these terraces themselves a few years ago, perhaps they had been at live gigs in the Bataclan concert hall, where it is well-known that admission does not depend on appearance or clothes. Attackers and victims – and this is the unsettling thing – were part of one and the same generation. Precisely this France, it would appear, was in the terrorists’ sights. This time, it was not places of power that fell victim to terror but also places where people play: places where music is played, or plays performed (but of course also simply football: the Stade de France, where a friendly match was in progress), stages on which actors play with identities and masks (on Saturday evening, a queer party should have been staged again in the Bataclan).

Defend diversity

After all, it is this multilayeredness and diversity of opinion which upsets the ideologues of enforced standardised thinking which, in turn, these ideologues attempt to destroy with a reign of terror and a show of barbarity. Those who declare a state of emergency, however, lead the attackers a little way closer to their goal, namely to enforce the declaration of a state of emergency not only in the areas controlled by ISIS but also in Europe. On Sunday, the population was called upon to stay at home, and at spontaneous demonstrations of solidarity, a banal false alarm triggered off utter panic: according to the security forces, anyone who congregates is already in danger.

This is precisely where the challenge for a democratic Europe will be in the future. The threats are not coming from the outside; this is not about barbarous hordes encamped before the gates of the continent. The actual fight will take place somewhere completely different, in the interior – whether the scaremongers will be victorious or whether Europe will be prepared to continue to defend that diversity which leaves it at once extremely vulnerable and infinitely resistant. In a nutshell, this is about the leeway of democracy.

Photo: / Andre Schütt

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