Campus forum analyzes Paris attacks

Five Northeastern University faculty members came together last month to examine January’s attacks in Paris and discuss different ways the tragic events fit into the larger context of conflicts, terrorism, free speech, and inequality.

Seventeen people were killed in the attacks, including 12 staffers at the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, and a policewoman and four shoppers at a Hypercacher kosher supermarket were gunned down in the days that followed. Police killed the three assailants who carried out the attacks.

The interdisciplinary forum was hosted by Northeastern’s Center for International Affairs and World Cultures and the Northeastern Humanities Center. The faculty members also discussed how the Paris attacks relate to the research and teaching they are doing at Northeastern. An open discussion followed.

Here are some of their insights:

Gordana Rabrenovic, associate professor of sociology and education and director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict

Rabrenovic noted that individuals like the assailants who carried out the Paris attacks often adopt radical ideals due to factors such as discrimination and low socioeconomic status.

In order to break the cycle, Rabrenovic said society must be more inclusive and create equal opportunities for all its citizens. “A strong society treats all of its citizens well,” she said. “It is based on equal opportunity and justice for all.”

Max Abrahms, assistant professor of political science

Abrahms examined the Islamic State strategy and how the Paris attacks fit into that strategy. He explained that while terrorist attacks look to cripple cities and countries, there is overwhelming evidence that attacks in fact cause a “rally around the flag” effect.

“The French were the opposite of intimidated,” Abrahms said of the country following the attacks. “Rather, they were defiant. Attendance at the post-attack march in Paris was essentially unprecedented. Crowds like those had not been seen since the end of World War II.”

Dov Waxman, co-director of the Middle East Center and professor of political science

Waxman focused his presentation on the second attack in Paris at the kosher supermarket that left four people dead. This act of violence was not an attack on free speech, like Charlie Hebdo, but rather an attack on Jewish people, he said.

“They were not targeted for what they did,” Waxman said. “They were attacked for no other reason than that they were Jewish.”

He added that anti-Semitism is a central component in radical jihadist ideology, where there is a belief of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy aimed at the destruction of Islam and Muslims.

Val Moghadam, professor of sociology and international affairs and director of the International Affairs program and the Middle East Studies program

Moghadam discussed free speech versus hate speech.

She pointed out some speech-related contradictions across Europe, including the fact that 16 European countries have anti-Holocaust denial laws, while any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, considered forbidden in Islam, is fair game.

“In our 21st-century world, everything should be open to inquiry,” Moghadam said. “Not to gratuitous ridicule and insult, but analysis, and, yes, even artistic representation.”

Shakir Mustafa, visiting associate professor of Arabic

Mustafa focused his talk on a number of areas within the context of Muslims and terrorism, including the reinvention of Islamaphobia. He noted that he wasn’t suggesting Islamaphobia was behind the Paris attacks, but rather that hate groups in Europe are steering anti-Muslim sentiments toward their goals.

“Ridiculous as it seems, reinventing Islamaphobia has become an intriguing chore, and Muslim bigots are simply not shouting ‘The Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming,’” Mustafa said. “They are actually doing something about it and undertaking fear mongering against Islamization in Europe based on no credible fears.”