Today’s incident in Paris is nothing short of a tragedy, with coordinated attacks and mass casualties—and the reports keep rolling in. But before we give in to our collective reactionary id, demanding an eye for an eye and boots on the ground, we should all take a moment to think. What we do right now matters.
The situation in France is still developing, but that hasn’t stopped the onslaught of racist vitriol directed towards refugees, immigrants, and even locals with off-white skin tones. Akin to the Charlie Hebdo aftermath, we may very well witness a backlash against the much-maligned and disenfranchised Middle-Eastern community of Paris. Incidents like today are fodder for anti-immigrant right wing movements, and ammunition for fringe parties looking to leverage control.
If the attackers are in any way linked to the Syrian and Iraqi migrants entering Europe, the international backlash will be intense—not that Europeans have ever needed much convincing to vilify entire demographics. Nevermind that these same refugees fled attacks perpetrated by the very people they are now typecast as.
France and the West face a choice: militarization or strategization. Neither will undo today’s events, but the latter can radically reinvent contemporary counter-terrorism. If France could resist the primal need for revenge, they could deprive terrorists of their primary means of recruitment. In an unprecedented act, France could deprive terrorists of their ideological fodder.
Violent implications aside, this has serious ramifications for the political landscape in France. Despite the popularity boost that Francois Hollande’s presidency enjoyed following the Charlie Hebdo incident, Hollande’s 2017 re-election prospects look bleak.
France’s National Front (NF), under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, is already enjoying significant support from the electorate, especially with the country’s rural provinces. Renowned for her staunch, Islamophobic, anti-immigration stance, Le Pen has already attempted to garner political capital from the Charlie Hebdo incident. Her xenophobic narrative resonates with many French voters angered by the lack of economic prospects in France’s growing rustbelt.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that governments and nations are no less vulnerable than bystanders. If anything, with their reputations on the line, they are more likely to react recklessly. In the fleeting, transient moments following an attack, rhetoric is capital. While France grieves, the West will harness the tempestuous temperament of the public to advance their agendas.