Paris Massacre: Implications for the Multiethnic French Capitol

BY JENNA EPSTEIN

Friday, November 13th: instead of a day of passing comments about the superstitious date, terror enveloped the city of Paris, and fear gripped the world. For many it will forever be remembered as the day when a series of coordinated terrorist attacks erupted throughout the French capital. At the hands of ISIS, 130 innocent civilians lost their lives, hundreds of others were left physically and psychologically harmed, and the increasingly multiethnic French society was pushed into the global spotlight.

Terrorists inflicted six separate but coordinated attacks in less than an hour, turning lively pockets of Friday night enjoyment into scenes of unfathomable horror:

  • In the suburb of Saint-Denis, while President Francois Hollande watched alongside thousands of spectators as France and Germany competed in a soccer match, three suicide bombers wreaked havoc outside of the Stade de France, killing one civilian and injuring several others.
  • In the 10th arrondissement, a district known for its ethnic diversity and multicultural vibe, terrorists opened fire on civilians dining at Le Carollin and Le Petit Cambodge.
  • Just two minutes later, another man wielding a machine gun on the Rue de la Fontaine fired shots outside Café Bonne Bière, killing five civilians and injuring at least eight others.
  • Along the Rue de Charonne in the 11th arrondissement, less than ten minutes later, one terrorist senselessly murdered nineteen people at the restaurant La Belle Equipe.
  • At the cafe Comptoir Voltaire near La Place de la Nation, a man detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and injuring at least fifteen others in the vicinity.
  • Horror continued in another pocket of the 11th arrondissement when terrorists stormed the Bataclan theater during a rock concert. In the deadliest attack of the evening, the gunmen seized hostages, murdered 89 trapped civilians, and injured over 350 others.

These tragic events have far-reaching implications. In sparking changes to national security agendas, shifting the war on terrorism to more of a collaborative global effort, and highlighting criticisms of the European migrant and refugee crisis, the repercussions of the Paris attacks are at the forefront of many domestic and foreign policy agendas. What is highly downplayed in the media coverage, however, is how this tragedy affects the lives of ethnic minorities living their typical lives in Paris.

While the sort of attacks ISIS has launched are difficult to anticipate or prevent, the New York Times writes, “each one intensifies the raucous xenophobia of far-right nationalists ever ready to demonize Muslim citizens, immigrants and refugees, and shut down Europe’s open internal borders.” In this manner, far-right politicians like Marine Le Pen (president of Le Front National) capitalize on this period of national vulnerability to enhance public following of her anti-immigrant stance. In grounding her rhetoric in the fear of the outsider, she conveys foreigners as the threat to French nationalism, thus amplifying her position as a protector of French cohesiveness. Such emphasis on fear of the foreign threat thus trickles down from the political stage and into the minds of civilians searching for feelings of comfort and safety during a time of national turmoil.

The public perception of foreigners – immigrants and ethnic minorities alike – inevitably shifts in the negative direction. What happens, then, to those individuals who may not look “French” but who live their lives side by side with French natives, walking the same streets and working the same jobs? What happens to to the commercial flow to businesses in neighborhoods perceived as more “ethnic”? How does this impact the debate on the influx of refugees migrating to the European Union to escape war-torn nations?

For minority populations both already living in Paris and those trying to arrive, the country’s political trajectory – as well as the minds of their citizen counterparts – is not in their favor. The horror inflicted upon the city by those of foreign origin – several of them reported to have entered the country amidst the Syrian refugee flow – only perpetuates anti-foreigner sentiment and resistance welcoming a multiethnic population, specifically those of middle eastern origin. The New York Times writes “Drastic measures demanded by far-right nationalists like Marine Le Pen of the National Front can only further alienate France’s Muslim population of five million, without offering any assurance against more attacks.”

In light of this reality, it is imperative to be cognizant of how people are going to perceive ethnic minorities and immigrants not only in Paris, but around the world. While there is now heightened speculation of terror threats infiltrating a refugee flow or hiding in the shadows of a pre-existing community of immigrants, fear must not prevail. Civilians in France, like those of other countries increasingly affected by the current refugee crisis, must sway from hasty generalizations and instead push for a culture of openness and acceptance of those with diverse origins.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité – it is what the French national motto is all about, after all.

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