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The Islamic State’s attacks on Paris were attacks on Muslims, too

- November 16, 2015
A man holds signs denouncing terrorism as he joins others paying tribute to terror victims at the “Le Carillon” restaurant, one of the sites of the attacks in Paris, on Nov. 15, 2015.  (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks in Paris. It also claims responsibility for bombing a Russian plane in Egypt, which killed more than 220 people, and twin bombings in Beirut, which killed at least 40 and wounded more than 200 others.

Here are several important things to keep in mind in the coming weeks and months, as European authorities investigate these terror attacks.

1. Islamic State did this. That’s not the same as “Muslims.”

We cannot attribute this attack to “Islam” or “Muslims.” France is home to between four and six million Muslims. According to state figures from May, French authorities have identified 1,683 French individuals who are “involved” in “Iraqi-Syrian networks.” That means they have at least “expressed the vague desire to leave for zones controlled by jihadis.” Of these, 457 reached the region, and 213 have returned to France.

Whichever one of those numbers you focus on – 213, 457 or 1,683 —those interested in terror are a tiny fraction of France’s Muslim population, or to be exact, between .03 and .04 percent.

2. Islamic State attacked France’s cosmopolitan diversity, including other Muslims.

The attackers chose telling sites to strike: Parisian, cosmopolitan and integrated. The target was not just France, but those parts of it that are widely known to be diverse.

There was no intention or attempt to spare Muslims in Paris. That is consistent with how the Islamic State attacks “apostate” Muslims in territories it controls in the Middle East.

3. France’s Muslim groups immediately and definitively reject these attacks.

Just as they did following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the HyperCacher grocery store in January, France’s Muslim associations and prominent figures immediately declared their disgust with the violence.

In an article that refers to Islamic State only as Daesh, SaphirNews, a French online news outlet reporting on issues relevant to Muslims, collected a series of these condemnations.

For example, the French Council for the Muslim Religion (the official interlocutor between the state and Muslims in France) stated that it “along with all Muslim organizations condemns with the greatest vigor these odious and despicable attacks.” The Paris Mosque “condemns with the greatest force the terrible murderous wave of terrorist attacks of unprecedented gravity that has struck our country.”

4. French Muslims are worried about violence.

Muslims and those who work with them are worried about potential threats and violence against Muslims in the coming days, given the increase in attacks on mosques and Muslims in January of this year. Such spikes in violence are in addition to an underlying pattern of violence against Muslims in France.

There have been stories of anti-Islam graffiti surfacing, just as it did following the attacks in Paris in January.  A long-planned demonstration by Breton nationalist party Adsav became violent on Saturday. Someone attacked a man identified as being “of Maghreb [that is, North African] origin.”

In my book, I write about how some in France conflate three groups of people: immigrants, Muslims and those who “look” North African.

The French activists who are Muslim that I have interviewed over the years all identify strongly with their French identity and the French triad of liberty, equality and fraternity. They attest that Muslims in France encounter prejudgments about their capabilities, their Frenchness, and, for those who are not white, their status as citizens.

Several made the point that the expression “of immigrant origin” is a way of distancing certain populations from France, perpetuating the notion of an “ethnic French” identity that is contrary to the ideals of the Revolution and the Republic. President Hollande called for “unity” in his address on Friday. This is a much more challenging demand than it might seem on the surface.

5. The refugee crisis isn’t the reason for the attacks. Rather, the refugees are a symptom of the same problem.

Marine Le Pen, among others, has stated that France must “recover the control of [our] national borders, once and for all.” But would that help? January’s attackers in Paris were radicalized right at home.

Building walls to keep people may be au courant. But the dream of the hermetically sealed nation is quixotic at best. Even the wall dividing East and West Germany was circumvented by creative and desperate individuals.

The refugee crisis results from failed states that cannot offer their citizens security or even basic well-being. These refugees knowingly risk death at sea because they have calculated that that risk is a better one than the guaranteed violence and insecurity that waits at home.

Some of the violence that the refugees are fleeing is caused by the same terrorist organization claiming responsibility for Friday’s attacks.

As I write, it appears possible that one of the perpetrators of Friday’s atrocities arrived as a Syrian refugee. Even if that proves true, he would be only one of the 8,000 refugees arriving in Europe per day—making him an aberration, not a representative.

6. Doors open.

On the night of the attacks, scores of Parisians used the hashtag #porteouverte to offer shelter to those who found themselves stranded on the city streets, uncertain how to get home safely. That gesture of solidarity speaks to the French civic spirit at its best.

As France heads toward regional elections in December, we will have to wait to see whether its leaders echo this spirit of fraternal openness to all members of its population, Muslims included.

Jennifer Fredette is an assistant professor of political science at Ohio University whose book “Constructing Muslims in France” was published by Temple University Press in 2014.