After Paris: ‘the week the world changed’
Seven days ago, our world felt different. Leading powers are now reviewing their military strategies and political support is shifting. Has a new chapter begun?
As Paris awoke on Saturday, it was clear that the deadliest terrorist attack in Europe for 11 years had just taken place. Seas of flowers lay at the sites of the murders. The bereaved, young and old, openly wept.
But the repercussions of last Friday’s slaughter in Paris may reach far beyond their impact on victims and loved ones. This was the first mass casualty attack which Islamic State had launched in the West. This, it said, was ‘the first of the storm’.
French President Francois Hollande described the attacks as an ‘act of war’; he promised to ‘destroy’ Islamic State and stepped up bombing on their territory in Syria. His response is already having profound geopolitical implications. Britain now looks likely to join the fight in Syria after David Cameron declared ‘we should not expect others to carry the burden of protecting our country’.
In the US, President Obama is under pressure to send ground troops to Syria — a move which he said ‘would be a mistake’. And western leaders have adopted a warmer approach towards Russian leader Vladimir Putin as they fight a mutual enemy.
The attacks have led to increased security concerns. The French prime minister said 10,500 people in his country were suspected of being radicalised and warned of the risk of a chemical or biological attack.
Numerous raids were carried out, the mastermind was killed and armed police were deployed in Europe’s capitals. Rumours suggested a football match in Germany or monuments in the Vatican City could be the next targets.
There was also an introspective response. Western public support for the admittance of Syria’s refugees fell sharply. Anti-Islam demonstrations broke out in France and Germany, where anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany saw a boost in their opinion poll ratings. And a sizeable proportion of the crowd at Turkey’s football match with Greece booed the minute’s silence before kick-off, with some chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’.
Just a moment?
Some say this was the week the world changed. Two directly conflicting ideologies — liberal secularism and fundamental Islamism — have been drawn into a conflict which neither can lose. It will cause far-reaching change in international and domestic politics and relations between communities.
That’s an over-reaction, others respond. ‘Moments’ do not really change the world: the fall of the Berlin Wall, for example, merely reflected preconditions which would always have brought down communism. This attack was expected, and could have been predicted long ago: Islamists attacked France in 1995 and the US in the 18th century. Any week brings conflicts, tragedies and problems; for most people, for better or worse, life goes on.
- Do you feel as if the world has changed this week?
- Do individual moments ever change the world?
- Write down five questions about the consequences of the Paris attacks. If possible, think about what the answers might be.
- Think of a major historical event which you know of. Prepare a short presentation explaining what it changed and what it did not change.
Some People Say...
“Wars are not the most important events in history.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Could this talk of war really affect me?
- In the UK, those in the armed forces are most obviously likely to be affected, though this attack showed that anyone could be at risk. In some previous wars there has also been conscription — people being forcefully drafted into the armed forces — although the situation would need to deteriorate considerably before the government considered such a draconian measure. War also has an economic and social impact. But those who will feel the impact of war most will be the people who live where it happens.
- Can I do anything to help?
- Charities such as Unicef are working to alleviate the dreadful suffering in Syria — go on their website and donate. But make sure you check out the details of the charity involved and find out what the money is being used for.
- Islamic State
- The group is loosely descended from al-Qaeda, which carried out the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda in Iraq was formed in 2004; in 2006 it created Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). ISI began to build its capacity in 2010 and began to fight the Assad government in Syria after civil war broke out there.
- ‘Act of war’
- If Hollande invokes Article 5 of the Nato charter, other Nato members would be obliged to regard this attack as an attack on them all.
- Fell sharply
- A YouGov poll suggested the number of people in favour of allowing more refugees into Britain than the government plans had fallen from 36% to 20% since late October. Those who said no refugees should be allowed in had risen from 14% to 26%. Meanwhile Obama described calls for Christian refugees to be given priority over Muslim ones as ‘shameful’.
- Bombings which began at Saint-Michel RER station killed eight people.
- The 18th century
- Islamist pirates from the Barbary states on the north African coast took American sailors hostage for ransom when the USA was a young republic. The US eventually went to war with these states.