Today the international community has been forced to deal with yet another unexpected, deadly act of terror. The attack took place in France, but its target was more specific than that country's government. The victim was a satirical news magazine called Charlie Hebdo, likely targeted for publishing images of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Stephane Charbonnier, the editor of the paper, was murdered by a group of masked gunmen who have yet to be identified or apprehended. The attack also led to the death of 11 other individuals, including a police guard and another police officer who arrived on the scene as the gunmen were fleeing.
In response to the attacks, French President Francois Hollande has been outspoken about his determination to find and bring justice to the attackers. He’s used the incident to rally support for national unity in France, declaring Thursday a national day of mourning. “We will find the people who did this,” Hollande said. “Freedom is always bigger than barbarism. Vive la France.” Hollande also raised the terror threat level and called for increased security throughout the country.
The attacks have also earned France support from a sympathetic international community. The United States government has already acknowledged the attack and expressed solidarity with Hollande. “France is America's oldest ally, and has stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the fight against terrorists who threaten our shared security around the world,” President Obama said in a statement. “Time and time again, the French people have stood up for the universal values that generations of our people have defended.” He also vowed that the U.S. would help bring justice to those who carried out the attack. The FBI is even reportedly working with French law enforcement to help find the suspects.
The quick international response from the highest levels of government in both France and the U.S. demonstrate the political significance of the Paris attacks. Even though a private company was targeted, the shooting is being viewed in the larger context of Islamic terrorism, freedom of speech and government protection from hostile acts. This is a trend that’s been building for years, although it’s become increasingly noticeable in recent months. Sept. 11, 2001, for instance, was as much an attack on the more than 400 companies housed in the towers of the World Trade Center as it was an attack on America. More recently, the Guardians of Peace targeted Sony with their unique form of cyber-terrorism, but the hack was quickly discussed by the highest levels of U.S. government as an attack against American policy. Although the terrorists aren't targeting federal buildings, they're still launching an indirect attack on the nation's government and its ideals.
This trend may not mean much more than the fact that, as Obama noted in his statement today, “these kinds of attacks can happen anywhere in the world.” Even though Charlie Hebdo was known to have published images deemed insensitive to the Islamic community, no one expected an attack of this nature to occur. Even though the publication was firebombed three years ago, no one expected 12 people to die just because some people didn’t like the cartoons that they published.
But that's the way the War on Terror is being fought. It's a war for ideals, Islamic or otherwise, and battles are waged not just in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan but on the streets of the world (or even online). Individuals and private companies are increasingly being targeted as victims, but it remains the responsibility of governments to issue the proper response to those attacks. An assault on a satirical news publication is an assault on freedom of speech, and countries like France and the U.S. must remain responsible for protecting those rights that their citizens have been promised. It’s a nearly impossible battle as we’re tragically reminded every time an attack like this occurs. The tactics used by nations like the U.S. — NSA spying, CIA torture, etc. — are just as questionable and demand to be scrutinized. But at least citizens and leaders in France and their supporters abroad are committed to bringing justice to those who carry out violent terrorist attacks.