Paris Attacks: Terrorism, the Press & What’s Next

Andrej Matisak, the foreign affairs editor at the Slovak daily Pravda, blogs at A Stamp on the World and asked me for some of my thoughts on the terrorist attack in Paris.

His questions are in italics.

President François Hollande called the attack an act of terrorism. Without too much speculations who did it I think we can call an attack on media also the attack on freedom of speech. So in your opinion, how should media react, should there be some limits for example in depicting the Prophet? 

My response is below, but you can read some other responses here:

The freedom of expression is essential to a modern humane society. While one can sympathize with Muslim anger at negative depictions of Muhammad, there is no justification for violence. Most people have objects and individuals that they venerate, but part of being a member of an open society is accepting that what one holds dear and sacred may be an object of humor or scorn to others. Free societies offer innumerable legitimate means of protest. Perhaps the most significant means of protest is to simply ignore what give offense. 

Journalists and the media should stand firm and not bow before intimidation, although one can sympathize that they are worried about their safety. The story should be reported soberly and without hyperbole. These monsters were willing to kill people over some pictures in a magazine. This is a trivial reason – an excuse – for murder. That simple fact above all else should be highlighted and emphasized.

I know we should be careful to conclude anything at this stage, but what do you make out of these attacks in France? From your point of view, do you see an indication that this could be a bigger terrorist operation linked to AQAP (ISIS, maybe), perhaps even a sleeper cell (could they be more)?

My response is below, but you can read some other responses here including the thoughts of the always thoughtful Max Abrams:

We have conflicting claims that this was an AQAP operation and an ISIS operation. While the attackers were inspired by these groups, it is not clear whether or not there was external direction to this operation. It is also difficult to know if this is part of a larger plot and events could prove this analysis wrong. Nonetheless, it is unlikely to be part of a larger plot. While French intelligence was caught off-guard by these attacks, they are nonetheless highly capable organizations. Stopping a specific attack requires a combination of skill and luck. However, as events unfolded it became clear that French intelligence knew a great deal about the perpetrators. Undoubtedly, suspect associates of the perpetrators will receive visits in the next few days to forestall follow-on attacks. If there were to be more attacks, they would have been launched already. Further more attacks may not be necessary. With a relatively small terror attack, the murderers shut down a great city and threw a nation into panic. Their goal was terror, and terror is what they achieved.

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