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Campus forum analyzes Paris attacks

Professor Gordana Rabrenovic shown giving remarks at the Paris Attacks forum

A packed room of mostly students attended last month's interdisciplinary panel of Northeastern faculty examining the larger context of the attacks in Paris this January.

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.”

-By Joe O’Connell

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