Understanding the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

It has been a few weeks since the Kouachi brothers opened fire at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which marked the beginning of a week of terror in Paris and culminated in the deaths of 17 people, as well as all three assailants. Although acts of homegrown terror are not unknown in the West - the most recent examples being the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013 and the Norway attack of July 2011 - the academic world seems not to have devoted much journal space to understanding why such crimes are perpetrated by fellow citizens. The Paris attacks may be the catalyst that redirects security studies back towards our own houses. In the meantime, here is a compilation of scholarly articles published in International Studies Quarterly that might give readers better insight into what happened and why.

Who Is responsible?

Unrest in the Muslim-dominated Parisian banlieues have been a sore spot for the government since the riots of 2005, a trend that perhaps illustrates that youth bulges coupled with economic stagnation also increase the likelihood of political violence. [Urdal, 2006]

What should France do now?

The day after the initial assault, the front page of Le Monde declared that this was France's '9/11'. Such statements have serious ramifications, particularly with regard to notions of power. [Agathangelou & Ling, 2004] examine how both al Qaeda and the U.S. have used particular phrases to mark out their stakes in the 21st century version of imperial politics.

Hollande's response to les attentats terroristes - to renew the global war on terror as well as to renew our faith in democracy - has clear repercussions for the international community. But, according to [Widmaier, 2007], his rhetoric also has implications for how the world should work after a crisis as well: namely, together.

If this is France's '9/11', should we anticipate new security policies akin to the USA PATRIOT Act, etc? While examining transnational terrorist attacks, [Piazza & Walsh, 2009] suggest that the answer is mixed.

But how best to fight an amorphous threat that seems to encroach from all sides except that of a state with clearly-delimited rules of engagement? [StanisÅ‚awski, 2010] gives the lay of the land in International Studies Review.

Is homegrown terror the new normal?

Many suggest that the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibady were able to radicalize because they fell through the proverbial cracks and lacked any connection to broader French civic institutions. [Chapman, 2008] tests whether such relationships affect peoples' attitudes toward political violence.

Or, is it inevitable that diaspora communities - particularly Muslim ones - get more involved with trans-state conflict and are therefore more likely to support terrorism as a tactic? [Sheffer, 2005] offers an overview at International Studies Review.

What about Islam?

Is the problem Islam? While this question has been circulated and answered ad nauseam since 2001, every "new" attack seems to bring it once more to the fore. [Soysa & Nordås, 2007] attempt to lay this dog to rest... again.

Should we now expect this type of response anytime someone blasphemes against the Prophet? [Hassner, 2011] says it's a good bet, at least in some places.

Acts of terror perpetrated by Islamist fundamentalists lead many to question whether it is even possible for productive discussions between 'Western' and 'Muslim' societies (as if those two things were mutually exclusive...). While the Paris attacks were carried out by French citizens, broader cross-cultural discussions over similar issues like the Danish cartoon controversy suggest some optimism. [Tromble & Wouters, 2014]

The GWOT is dead, long live the GWOT!

In addition to the depictions of Mohammed, the Kouachi brothers cited France's role in the broader GWOT as one of the reasons for their attack. Not surprisingly, [Furia & Lucas, 2006] show that Arab public opinion on Western states like France is largely predicated on that country's foreign policies towards the Middle East and North Africa. 


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