Roundtable addresses Paris attacks

On Thursday, Feb. 25, the French and Francophone studies and government departments organized a roundtable discussion about the terrorist attacks in Paris that occurred Nov. 13, 2015. Associate Professor of French Dominica Chang, Associate Professor of French Lifongo Vetinde, Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs and Associate Pro-fessor of Government Jason Brozek, Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and Professor of Government Claudena Skran, and junior Alana Rieser—a French major who was in France last fall—led the discussion. After the event I asked Brozek, Chang and Vetinde to share their thoughts and reactions.

Vetinde said, “I basically took [the attacks] quite personally because I have friends and relatives in France. One of my friends was in Paris at the time and he had just left for Toulouse. I could have been there myself. I was very shocked at the scale and randomness of the attacks. I mean, they attacked areas no one would have suspected.”

Chang added, “This was one of the first larger attacks where we see soft targets. One of the innovations was to pick places no one would expect these attacks to occur, particularly in places with young people who are not necessarily in positions of power.”

What do the professors hope students took away from the panel discussion?

Chang replied that students have more of a sense when events like this occur, as students think, “I will think about it differently or more deeply than I would otherwise because the overwhelming message that we see is recourse to fear, anger and retaliation. So if we are able to remind peo-ple to slow down that response I would be thrilled with that.”

Vetinde said, “I believe some of the students walked away with a more enlightened idea about the terrorist phenomenon because we do not get to hear the other side of the story. We have to look at it dialectically to understand why these things are going on.”

Brozek added that the “lessons are much broader. This discussion goes well beyond November 2015.”

Chang and Vetinde added, “This won’t be the last unfortunately.”

In response to what will happen going forward, Vetinde said, “I hope there will be massive demonstrations if any Western leader sets out to invade a weaker country. I hope the youth would take to the streets and protest because such exercise of power creates a breeding ground or serves an excuse for terrorists.

Chang agreed: “I would love to see more protest against military retaliation and to protect human and civil rights.”

Brozek added, “These attacks have a motivation we can understand, and if we dismiss the idea then we will never understand.”

How did social media play a role in the attacks?

Although social media played a negative role in the attacks by aiding recruitment, it also had positive effects.

Brozek gave examples of the positive role of social media: “In Paris people were getting information from social media. People were texting, tweeting from inside the concert hall, posting police updates from the streets and sharing news. There was an update you could post on Facebook to let people know you were safe if you had a place for people to stay.”

Chang added that social media “plays a role in community building and the healing that needs to take place.”

Why is it important for the current generation and future generations to understand these attacks?

Vetinde said the attacks “affect families of the terrorists. The government measures have a very negative effect on them. They take away their civil liberties. There are negative effects on families and society at large.”

Chang replied, “Unless someone chooses to live in absolute isolation, there is absolutely no way to completely escape the influence of these problems.

Brozek said, “I think we have a responsibility to understand the motivations to engage in terrorism. It’s irresponsible to simply dismiss it as the actions of crazy-eyed evil-doers.”

Chang concluded, “We have responsibility as citizens and as a global power.”