ISIS Attacks: The 5 Symbols They Chose – and How We React

With every detail released in the media about the attacks ISIS performed in Beirut and Paris, I couldn’t help myself but think “F*ck, this is… brilliant”. And yes, I think we have to speak about a performance, the symbolic impact was chosen too well to believe that the details of the events might be plain coincidence. Regarding its strategy, the Islamic State demonstrated its power and networks in order to mock not only Europeans, but peaceful people all over the world. However, these power games will most likely attract more followers, since the entire series of events looks like a well-designed, perfidious trap. The question is, if we will deliberately step into this trap. Let me explain what I mean:

  1. The cities – Paris and Beirut

The combination of attacks in these cities shows several symbolic dimensions:

  • Before the wars in Lebanon, Beirut used to be called “Paris of the Middle East” – google it! The vibrant city slowly changed its face: the violent bombings destroyed the beautiful gardens and the classy architecture. Does ISIS threat to do the same with Paris?
  • ISIS hates both Muslims and Westerners. By coordinating the deadly suicide attacks in Lebanon and France, ISIS expresses their hate bluntly – everyone who is not with them, is against them. But this coordination led to a much more dangerous perception:
  • „Westerners are worth more than Muslims.“ The countless Facebook profile pictures, which have been changed in a landslide with the French tricolour, the safety checks, the deep shock and the impact on international politics – yes, this hardly ever happens when an attack happens in Non-Western regions. One could argue that the solidarity is greater with Paris because shock only occurs if an event is unexpected. Unfortunately, we are used to tragic pictures from the Middle East and have become numb to it. Moreover, we expect that Europe is still a safe harbour, where such attacks can be prevented. However, the discrepancy between the reactions towards both events can be used as a confirmation by ISIS that the West does not care about the Muslim population in order to attract more foreign fighters.
Downtown of Beirut - Photo: Ahmad Moussaoul (CC BY 2.0)
Downtown of Beirut – Photo: Ahmad Moussaoul (CC BY 2.0)
  1. The event – a friendly match between Germany and France

Could it be more obvious? Germany and France are the cradle of the European Union. Forgetting their feud after World War II was the crucial step to maintain peace in Europe and create the economic union along with Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Italy. This integration has been perceived as the pillar of our modern values and the ability to forgive. The worst part – Germany and France might go towards completely different directions if Marine Le Pen wins the French elections with her right-wing party Front National in the aftermath of the shootings. However, terrorism always leaves emotional wounds, which people try to overcome. Unfortunately, hate, racism and anti-democratic tendencies are accepted deliberately in such cases.

The Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colours of the French flag - Photo: Chris Zi (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colours of the French flag – Photo: Chris Zi (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
  1. One of the suicide bombers entered Europe through the Balkan route

This is no coincidence – ISIS staged the attack by a „refugee“, knowing which reaction they would provoke. Within a few hours politicians and citizens started blaming refugees, accusing them to be anti-Western. If we allow this attitude to dominate the public discourse, ISIS wins in two ways: the European Union will be weakened, because some will still support rather liberal policies towards refugees, while others will become more sceptic and harsh – as a concequence nationalism increases. Furthermore, a society which is against refugees – read: against Muslims – is a society worth attacking to extremists. Remember: there are people who flee from areas where attacks like the Parisian ones are on the daily agenda.

Refugees arriving in Greece - Photo: Red Cross (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Refugees arriving in Greece – Photo: IFRC (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
  1. The country – again France

It is no wonder that France was targeted again. It is a perfect example of how ISIS mocks the European values and the system. They demonstrate that in spite of greater surveillance measures, they were a step ahead, even after the Charly Hebdo attacks. Plus – France, the country of the greatest European Revolution, failed to integrate many of its citizens and partially remains a post-colonial approach in its foreign policies.

Paris by night - Photo: Nam Ing
Paris by night – Photo: Nam Ing  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
  1. The date – Friday 13th

Ever wondered why Friday 13th has always been an unlucky day? The roots are Christian: According to the Bible, Jesus has been crucified on a Friday and 13 used to be called “the devil’s dozen”. This superstition still exists and now ISIS will be connected even more with evil and unexpected threats.

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What shall we do now?

Although it is hard, real talk is necessary now instead of panic. We need to talk about some issues:

  1. Rethinking our understanding of “war”: French President Hollande already used the war vocabulary and indeed, France has been involved in air strikes against the Islamic State. However, we really have to start a public debate about war. Can you fight fire with fire? Are we in the state of war in whole Europe? Should we continue to use war methods which haven’t functioned since 9/11 and produced more failed states? Shall we clean up the mess if we have caused it? Is war in accordance to our European values a proper option? Is an official declaration of war even strengthening ISIS‘ ideology and opening the gate for more hatred? It’s time for a real and honest strategy now.
  2. Could we please stop expecting Muslims to distance themselves from aggression? Ok, there are 1.3 billion Muslims on this world, if they were all aggressive, we’d be all dead by now. Draw the line, educate yourself, and talk to people instead of suspecting them directly. Even Iran’s Foreign Minister Sarif condemns ISIS and says they are not real Muslims because they solely act in the name of hate. And this says a politicians from a country many people still remember as a part of the “axis of evil” in the back of their minds. If Muslim associations feel the necessity to distance themselves – fine. But don’t automatically expect Islam to be the root of aggression, because a cult has developed within the religion.
  3. Don’t let Europe break apart. It’s obvious that a weak Europe only supports ISIS, right? Therefore, the importance of a stable union is growing steadily! Don’t let fear and external threats change that.
  4. Prepare for the surveillance and security debate. It’s a matter of a few days until we speak about more surveillance and strengthening the secret services. The United States paid the price for peace on their soil by accepting measures which remind us of a security state. Are we going the same way?

Cover photo: Stuart Anthony (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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