PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 16: The Eiffel Tower is illuminated in Red, White and Blue in honour of the victims of Friday's terrorist attacks on November 16, 2015 in Paris, France. Countries across Europe joined France today to observe a one minute-silence in an expression of solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attacks, which left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Paris Attacks: Seven Essential Reads

The weekend events in Paris have generated millions of words in response, be it reportage, raw emotion, or analysis. Paradoxically, it is possible to feel less informed the more you take in.

Here are seven pieces that we think it’s worth taking the time to read.


Written before the latest attacks, George Packer’s fascinating New Yorker feature on “the other France” takes readers to the banlieues, Paris’s notorious concrete suburbs.

An excerpt:

Being from the banlieues is a serious impediment to employability, and nearly every resident I met had a story about discrimination. Fanta Ba, the daughter of Senegalese immigrants, has taken to sending out job applications using her middle name, France, and Frenchifying her last name to Bas, but she remains out of work. Whenever she hears of a terrorist attack in France, she prays, “Don’t let it be an Arab, a black, a Muslim.” On January 7th, she turned off the TV and avoided Facebook for two days. She couldn’t bear to rewatch the violent images or hear that all Muslims bore some responsibility. “To have to say, ‘I am Charlie’ or ‘I am a Muslim and I condemn this’—it’s too much,” she said. “It wasn’t me. I asked myself, ‘How will this end? Are they going to put crosses on the apartment doors of Muslims or Arabs?’

The Eiffel Tower, Paris, illuminated in Red, White and Blue in honour of the victims of the attacks. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The Eiffel Tower, Paris, illuminated in Red, White and Blue in honour of the victims of the attacks. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images


Graeme Wood’s Atlantic cover story from March, What ISIS Really Wants”, is considered by many to be the definitive essay on the group.

Pretending that [ISIS] isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.


In her column for the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum explains why the claims that refugees are somehow responsible for the attacks are utterly spurious – and yet how the events will nevertheless boost far-right parties across Europe and oblige the EU to urgently restore confidence about the inward flow of migration.

There is no avoiding it: These terrorist attacks will consolidate this sense of insecurity, the feeling that no one at the national or international level is in charge of policy toward terrorism or refugees, even in those European countries that have no terrorism or refugees at all. And unless the sense of control returns, the political consequences could be severe. Across the continent, a surge in support for far-right, anti-European or anti-immigrant political groups has already begun, in Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden and France itself. The anti-E.U. movement in Britain is poised to benefit. So is Viktor Orban’s nationalist right government in Hungary, which successfully manipulated the refugees for its own benefit in the summer.


In a fascinating piece for The Nation, Lydia Wilson describes interviews with imprisoned ISIS soldiers, which suggest extreme Islamism and the promise of the caliphate may not be the magnet many assume.

Many assume that these fighters are motivated by a belief in the Islamic State, a caliphate ruled by a caliph with the traditional title Emir al-Muminiin, “Commander of the faithful,” a role currently held by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; that fighters all over the world are flocking to the area for a chance to fight for this dream. But this just doesn’t hold for the prisoners we are interviewing. They are woefully ignorant about Islam and have difficulty answering questions about Sharia law, militant jihad, and the caliphate. But a detailed, or even superficial, knowledge of Islam isn’t necessarily relevant to the ideal of fighting for an Islamic State, as we have seen from the Amazon order of Islam for Dummies by one British fighter bound for ISIS.


Nicolas Hénin spent 10 months as an Isis hostage in Syria. Writing for the Guardian, the Frenchman contends that violent retaliation is precisely what they crave.

With their news and social media interest, they will be noting everything that follows their murderous assault on Paris, and my guess is that right now the chant among them will be “We are winning”. They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media.

Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance – it is not what they want to see.


There are a lot of things that won’t work in combating ISIS, writes Charles P Pierce for Esquire, but there is one course of action that will have an impact. “It is long past time It is long past time for the oligarchies of the Gulf states to stop paying protection to the men in the suicide belts,” he writes.

It’s time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we’re satisfied that you’ll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that’s your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home. Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states.


The aftermath of Paris saw a slew of social media users upbraid the mainstream media for failing to cover atrocities in other places, such as Beirut, where Isis had struck a day earlier, followed by a backlash in which those complaining were dismissed as not just wrong, but, in the words of one critic, “tragedy hipsters”.


For a nuanced take on all of that, try Max Fisher’s Vox piece.

There’s more than just a supposed lack of media coverage at stake here, and the world’s attention manifests itself in ways beyond just the frequency or attendance of sympathy rallies. The Syrian refugee crisis, for example, is something that has hit both France and Lebanon. Yet the world’s response — not just its words but its actions — has given significantly more weight to France’s refugee burden than to Lebanon’s.

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