PARIS â€" In terms of terrorist attacks on French territory, this was unprecedented: multiple suicide bombers blowing themselves up late Friday, after launching coordinated massacres in five locations in central Paris and near the Stade de France football stadium on the outskirts of the capital in Saint Denis. The Paris targets included Bataclan, a concert venue where scores of music fans were taken hostage.
French President Francois Hollande said Saturday morning that the ISIS terror group was responsible for the attacks that left at least 120 dead.
Qualified as a "complex" operation for its stage-by-stage implementation, the action was likely modeled on a type of violence made common in recent years in conflict zones like Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.
Another novelty in this type of attack on French soil is their simultaneous nature. Anti-terror prosecutors say this allowed authorities to swiftly identify the incidents as a large-scale terrorist operation with the possibility of dire consequences. Multiplying targets in this way has the effect of augmenting panic and confusion, while information became more mangled as assailants moved around to sow terror instead of focusing on one point.
In theory, ntelligence services had anticipated such a scenario. "When I headed the Home Intelligence central office, we envisaged such an attack on train stations, sports stadiums or concert halls," says Bernard Squarcini, head of French intelligence service from 2008-2012. "This is no blind act but a complex attack." Squarcini cited the "political context" of the timing, with a global environmental summit â€" the so-called COP21 â€" scheduled to begin later this month.
The recent history of attacks on French soil reveals a gradual slide toward this type of assault, now typical in countries bloodied by asymmetrical wars between high-tech powers and opponents with lesser means but a resolve to destroy their own lives while killing as many as possible. It's a trend that has gained momentum since war broke out in Syria in 2011, amid fears in France as elsewhere in Europe that militants fighting there will return to perpetrate terror attacks.
An early warning sign was the close ties between brothers Said and Chérif Kouachi, perpetrators of the Jan. 7 attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, and Amedy Coulibaly who led a lone attack on a kosher supermarket, suggesting prior coordination of plans. Investigations have yet to firmly reach this conclusion, but evidently they had ties. Acting in France between 2010 and early 2015, the Kouachi brothers and their friends in the Buttes-Chaumont "branch" (named after the Paris district they frequented) pursued their radicalization plans, bought weapons and kept in touch with confidantes who had decided to fight with militants in Syria or Tunisia.
A year earlier, on May 24 2014, Mehdi Nemmouche, who had returned from Syria via Thailand and Germany, murdered four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. He acted alone and had similarities to Mohammed Merah, perpetrator of the killings in Toulouse and Montauban in March 2012. The former had been a prison officer for ISIS in Syria, and the latter had sought his jihadist thrills in Afghanistan and tribal areas of Pakistan. Their evolution did not occur without encouragements and support from Islamic radicals around them, though their attacks were personal initiatives.
Several attacks on the Paris public transportation system in the summers of 1995 and 1996 displayed a different kind of protocol with its own kind of signature. The same places attacked at a busy hour, with gas canisters and nails. That campaign was ordered by captains of the Algerian Islamic Armed Group linked to small-time operatives in and around the central French city of Lyon.
Those attacks were restricted to particular networks known to the intelligence services, and ended when the cells were dismantled. They lack the massive scale of the waves of violence sweeping Syria, which seem to have overwhelmed the counter-terrorist authorities and brought their exceptional brutality to strike at the heart of France.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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