A thousand young Parisians were teeming with anticipation. In and around the Bataclan theater they were laughing, drinking, and smoking as they waited for the opening act to finish to see the touring American band Eagles of Death Metal. But just a few songs after the main act took the stage, the lucky ones were pouring out into an alley behind the concert hall, hanging from windows to escape the carnage, staggering onto the streets of Paris’ 11th arrondissement. 85 people were massacred at the Bataclan, the site of the largest of six ISIS attacks that rocked Paris on Friday.
Just hours after French Special Forces stormed the theater after gunmen began killing hostages inside, Prime Minister François Hollande addressed the citizens of La République from the steps of the same building. Hollande’s response was angrily defiant as he declared a state of emergency, implementing curfews across Paris. In contravention of the Schengen agreement, Europe’s common border and immigration policy, he also took the nearly unprecedented step of closing French borders. Trying to balance outrage and agony, Hollande declared the attacks an “act of war” and promised a “remorseless” response.
For Europeans, the terrorist attacks in Paris were shocking but not entirely unfamiliar. An alarming reminder of the continent’s increasing threats of urban violence, in the last 10 years the major European capitals of Madrid, London, Oslo, and now Paris have all seen major terrorist attacks. Yet just ten months after the assault against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo—located just a few hundred yards from the Bataclan—this event carries with it a much more ominous atmosphere. Following the ISIS-linked Beirut bombings on November 12th which killed 40 and the downing of a Russian passenger flight in Sinai on October 31st which killed 224, ISIS has promised that this is just the beginning of a wave of attacks on European targets.
So where does Europe go from here? To understand how Friday’s tragedy will change the region’s political and security calculations, we need to first understand how cosmopolitan cities like Paris are responding to these sorts of complex security challenges.
In Europe, as in the United States, major cities are held up as embodiments of democratic values and the best of European society. Cities like Paris are symbols of history and progress, of enlightenment and tolerance. Yet in spite of this—and perhaps because of it—cities are also the places where protests, riots, and terrorist attacks are most likely to happen. Urban theorist Saskia Sassen notes that cities are the prime locations where the “repositionings of territory, authority, and rights” occur, and in the face of more and more visceral social exclusion and radicalization, cities are increasingly vulnerable to violent extremism and unrest. Urban areas provide anonymity for individuals or group, are highly connected, and are susceptible to transnational influences—both good and bad.
And with thoughts of transnational influences, many in Europe can’t help but instantly link Friday’s attacks with the once-in-a-lifetime refugee influx that their political leaders are desperately trying to cope with. Saturday’s discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one of the Bataclan attackers seemed to officially tie together the refugee crisis and the threat of attacks on European cities. The passport belonged to a man who entered Europe through the Greek island of Leros on October 3rd. This discovery indicated that Islamic extremist groups are taking advantage of the refugee crisis to launch attacks on European soil also gives nearly limitless fodder to those in the political Far Right, and will no doubt stoke fears that dozens more terrorists have already breeched the gates of Europe.
Though while terrifying to imagine, it is essential that we remove the absolutism in linking the mode of entry to calculations of terrorist threats. While leaders need to take seriously the possibility that the current migration crisis can enable militarized persons to cross European borders, forthcoming policy responses must be both firm and thoughtful. Blanket assertions against refugee populations based upon others who used the same routes to do damage are little more than low-hanging, divisive fearmongering. Moreover, it is precisely these types of attacks that refugees are trying to escape.
Yet it is a stark reality that the refugee crisis is now being framed not only as a social and economic challenge for Europe as a continent, but also as a security threat to European cities. And increasingly, this challenge is being met with military force. Civilian police forces are in general overmatched in their efforts to provide security in urban areas, particularly in times of acute crisis.
In Paris, the army was called in to create order in the capital and support the police forces following the attacks. In the wake of attacks by Anders Behring Breivik on Oslo and Utøya in Norway in 2011, an independent commission found fault in police intelligence and operations procedures. In light of these and other attacks over the past decade, greater cooperation between the police and armed forces has become more mainstream. In London and Malmö in recent years, national armies were placed on alert or deployed during urban riots.
The ramifications of the Paris attacks will be considerable, and extend beyond Europe’s borders. In the short-term, a probable response is greater militarization and securitization of major European cities. This is likely to include either the explicit use of military forces to patrol and keep order in cities, or the greater cooperation between police and military in operational planning and intelligence gathering.
With threat levels at high alert across the continent, such a situation is already occurring. The French armed forces remain patrolling the streets of Paris. In Belgium, the government has made plans for military personnel to provide security at the country’s international soccer match against Spain. In London, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, an elite and highly covert special forces unit of the British Army, are supporting the Metropolitan Police in guarding major tourist and commercial centers in the British capital.
Yet while military support of civilian security provision may give a veneer of safety, it also risks legitimizing actions that encroach on democratic rights and civil liberties. In the longer run, events such as what happened in Paris as well as the increasing complexity of urban security may result in a creeping ‘militarization’ of major European cities. This is akin to the ‘new military urbanism’ discussed by Stephen Graham in his book ‘Cities Under Siege’, which outlines how (urban) security doctrines in the North and Global South are rapidly blurring.
Graham writes of a ‘Boomerang Effect’ where militarized approaches used to fortify cities in conflict zones in the Global South are reimported to the West as ‘combat-proven’ solutions that can be used to secure cities facing increasingly complex challenges. With considerable concern, such approaches link neoliberal economic and security agendas, amplify the collaboration between the police and military, and cast domestic urban minorities in the same light as external enemies.
While knee-jerk reactions in the United States over the weekend inevitably centered on individual gun ownership rights, in Europe the greater fear is that the long-lasting consequences of the attacks may instead be a ‘Latin Americanization’ of its cities. This could foreseeable mean ubiquitous private armed security forces stationed at every public gathering, every café, every mall, every sporting event, to try to assuage the public fear of the unknown, and the creeping ever-present anxiety about the next potential attack. Security checks, restriction of mobility, and greater monitoring of cities and citizens will all likely be significantly ramped up.
Another legitimate fear is a US-style militarization of European police forces, which are in general more restrained than in the United States. In some countries, including Norway, police forces rarely carry firearms. While militarized policing is often viewed as a somewhat repugnant artifact of the American criminal justice system, the emerging threats to European cities may result in such practices being the harsh new reality.
Such responses also risk torpedoing effective negotiation on the ongoing refugee crisis, with increased security checks likely leading to a slowdown or halt in migrant processing and entry. Politically, German chancellor Angela Merkel will undoubtedly face renewed scrutiny for her open door policy, and support for reformist agendas will likely diminish. The far-right movement in Europe, already strengthened by flagging economies and anti-immigration sentiment, are certain to leverage Friday’s attacks to bolster their own agendas. For the European Union itself, France’s unilateral shuttering of its borders—and the significant restrictions on entry as seen in recent weeks in Hungary, Slovenia and Sweden—may further shake the EUs foundation of solidarity, particularly following the Grexit debacle earlier this year.
What then is the appropriate response of Europeans in order to both protect their values and freedoms while avoiding repeats of Friday’s events in Paris in other urban areas? Facing increasingly complex cities, a divisive political climate, and burdened by the challenge of integrating over a million refugees, Europe seems to face a tradeoff between securitization and liberty. Yet rather than having to choose between an Orwellian state and the threat of an Islamic caliphate, citizens and governments must find a way to balance the need for making cities and nations safe without undermining democratic rights, inclusiveness, and the project of integration.
Not to do so would betray the victims of this tragedy, and betray the freedoms Europeans hold dear—sitting in a square drinking espressos over a game of chess, parents playing with children in parks and playgrounds, or laughing the night away listening to a touring band at a local concert hall. At the Bataclan on Friday night, the closing line to final song The Eagles of Death Metal played on-stage before the shootings began might easily have been written for Paris: ‘Don’t say a prayer for me now, save it ’til the morning after’.