The 2015 Terror Attacks in Paris and the French Response

“The 2015 Terror Attacks in Paris and the French Response” Panel & Presentation,
2016 APSA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA

One of the Great Transformations of our time has been the changing religious, racial, and ethnic makeup of Europe. The increase in the number of Muslims in Europe, and the ways in which Europeans and their leaders have responded to their changing citizenry, have raised a number of fundamental political questions. The demands of secularism, the limits of individual freedom, and the nature of integration and national identity have all been brought into the limelight for questioning by the general public and academics alike.

This has especially been the case as global attention has turned to Islamic terrorism in the wake of September 11. One of the aims of political science, however, is to bring to the discussion of such attacks a theoretical lens and wider analytical angle, one that incorporates such factors as political institutions, national contexts, historical precedents, and political behavior.

This panel brings together a series of papers that seek to do exactly that.

The year 2015 saw two attacks in and around Paris: the assaults on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, accompanied by shootings near and around Paris; and the coordinated attacks of November 13 that lead the government to declare a lengthy, three-month state of emergency. France is home to the greatest number of Muslims in Europe, and some studies claim that they are the most well “integrated” of all European Muslims. That the attackers were Muslim, however, has only compounded longstanding anxieties and uncertainties about France’s Muslim population.

The five papers on this panel all work to make sense of the context of the attacks and state and public reactions to them through various analytical means. Three papers deal directly with responses to the attacks: Vincent Tiberij draws on opinion barometers and a long-term representative panel study to argue that political and social elites have shaped citizen responses to such events through a framing process, and that distinct differences in elite framing can be observed between the attacks of January and November; Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter examine, though discourse analysis, how the French far right has drawn on such attacks to repackage their biological racism as politically safe arguments about national values and free speech; while Martial Foucault, George Marcus, and Pavlos Vasilopoulos draw on post-attack survey results to inform the much needed hard work of identifying precisely what effect the emotions of fear and anger have on political action. Two additional papers examine the context of the attacks in a comparative fashion: Justin Gest uses public opinion data from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France in order to come to the conclusion that sociopolotical resistance to the presence of Muslims is the foremost factor in affecting integration outcomes; and Brandon Kendhammer and Jennifer Fredette propose to re-examine the French case and its responses to Islamic terrorism in light of the plethora of non-Western and post-colonial cases in which similar issues are at stake, but normative expectations of state secularism look quite different.

Overall, the panelists make use of a varied collection of methods of inquiry—from surveys to discourse analysis to a neuroscience perspective—in order to make sense of some of most pressing “Big Questions” Europe will face in the 21st century.

Jennifer Fredette, Ohio University