The Paris Attacks

Su Min Kim

On November 13, 2015, ISIS attacked Paris, France leading to 128 deaths. After this terrorist attack, many around the world showed support for France whether it be through social media or lighting up buildings in France’s colors or holding vigils. However, as citizens realize the immense threat behind the Paris attacks, fear begins to creep into some minds. Some begin to think, “Could this happen to me? Could this happen here in the United States?” Perhaps, but it would probably be highly difficult. When thinking about this possibility, it is important to consider these questions:

Why was Paris attacked?

Paris was attacked for several political reasons. The French President Francois Hollande has allied with the United States in attacking ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Slowly but steadily, these attacks have begun to reduce the size of ISIS territory by 25%. These Paris attacks could be a result of the retaliation as well as a demonstration of power. With this show of power, ISIS has put pressure on the shoulders of governments in regards to the next steps that should be taken. France is also the main country that has been supporting moderate Syrian rebels in order to oppose the Assad regime. Although France is not directly supplying weapons, by funding these rebels with money, France has been aiding the rebels against their fight with ISIS.

These Paris attacks also sought to disturb public opinion and social life. France holds home to about 5 million Muslims, more than any other country in the West. However, they are not well integrated into French society; they live in poor suburbs and receive little education and job opportunities. This makes France an ideal target for ISIS. These Muslims were subject to racial discrimination prior to the terrorist attacks, but afterwards, the sense of mistrust has no choice but to increase. Additionally, the specific locations that were attacked were not important government buildings or centers of economy (such as the World Trade Center in 9/11), but they were everyday places that were popular with Parisians, not tourists. By attacking these public areas, ISIS instilled even more fear and stripped the citizens of their sense of security.

How was Paris able to be attacked?

Europe’s security is not as tight as that in the United States. For example, Europe’s external border controls have been scrutinized due to its loose security. The Schengen Agreement that Europe follows provides for free border-crossing within the majority of the European Union, making it very easy for anyone including terrorists to travel to various locations. It is also incredibly easy for someone from Syria to slip into Greece through Turkey. With a record of 218,000 refugees last month entering the European Union, it is difficult to pick out a couple individuals who may be potential terrorists. Essentially, it is like picking out a needle from a haystack.

As mentioned before, Muslims living in France tend to face exclusion from society. For example a large percentage of French inmates in prison are Muslim. Compared to the European Muslims, American Muslims are less attracted by Islamic State ideology due to the societal differences. On the other hand, nearly half of the European extremists that have joined ISIS are from France. With support from within France, ISIS was able to attack more efficiently.

What about the United States?

The United States may be a large country, but its national security is very tight. Due to the location, if people from the Middle Eastern war zones want to come to the United States, they must travel by plane. However, since the World Trade Center attack of 9/11 make, our country has made it difficult for people to enter the U.S. Further, Border Patrols around Canada and Mexico also make it difficult for people to cross illegally thanks to high surveillance tools and maintaining traffic checkpoints, city patrols, transportation checks, and anti-smuggling investigations.

U.S. intelligence, law enforcement, and border-control has  improved dramatically since the 9/11 terrorist attack. Visa requirements make it tough for terrorists to travel, and HSPD-6 agreements require countries participating in the visa-waiver program to provide information on extremists, which helps gather valuable information. The United States spends about $47 billion on homeland security a year, compared to to France’s multi-year $786 million effort on combating terrorism after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

The U.S. also has heightened security measures since the Paris attacks. Many police departments across the country are on high alert. For example, the New York Police Department has dispatched a “critical response group” into crowded areas in the city, and the Massachusetts State Police have increased security around key government sites as well as placed a “multi-layered security package” at the Logan Airport in Boston. Seeing that a terrorist attack had happened on the night of a soccer game, the NBA and the NFL have said they would take appropriate measures to ensure security.

The bottom line is that a future terrorist attack in the U.S. is possible, as seen in San Bernardino, but it is still much more difficult for it to happen in the United States than in France due to differences in security measures. However, as we are now well aware, it is certainly not the time to let our guard down.