In wake of Paris attacks, lessons in dealing with terrorism

Scholars from UC Berkeley and France came together Wednesday evening to discuss last month’s terrorist attacks on Paris. Hundreds of people filled Booth Auditorium at the Berkeley School of Law as the six panelists tackled some tough issues, from terrorism’s role in creating a cycle of violence to the Western tendency to ignore terrorist attacks in other parts of the world.

Panel discussion

Panelists (from left): Soraya Tlatli, Jean-Pierre Filiu, Christopher Kutz, Saba Mahmood, Bartolomeo Conti and Hatem Bazian. (UC Berkeley photo by Anne Brice)

“This is the second time we gather after a major attack in Paris,” said Hatem Bazian, a Berkeley lecturer who teaches courses on Islam in America and deconstructing Islamophobia. He said that he hesitated when he was asked to take part in the panel, because instead of addressing the numerous countries that are regularly hit by terrorist attacks, it would be focusing on Paris.

“Muslims are the primary victims of terrorism and counterterrorism attacks,” said Bazian. “But we rarely stop to mourn and humanize [these victims] … They are expected to die because it is part of the imagined geography they inhabit.”

Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sciences Po, the Paris School of International Affairs, said that with these attacks, terrorists are trying to incite an overreactive military response — an impulse he says Europe and the U.S. must resist. “They wanted to [hit] the targets that would generate a cycle of violence,” he said.

Panelists also explored what it means to declare a state of war, as did French President François Hollande. Berkeley law professor Christopher Kutz argued that once a country declares it’s at war, there is greater pressure for success and to escalate tactics and military engagement. “We might again wonder if this rhetoric of war is going to undermine a commitment to a long-term struggle against terrorism,” he said.

It’s important, said Berkeley anthropology professor Saba Mahmood, for the U.S. and Europe to confront their own complicity in creating and perpetuating violence and terrorism in the Middle East. “The U.S. and European governments have destroyed the political and economic infrastructure of these countries — slowly, methodically and mercilessly,” she said.

“It’s easy to have a candlelight vigil,” Baziam concluded, “but much more difficult questions must be asked about the policies that got the world to this point. Who supplied these groups with weapons? Who benefits from profit of rewarding undemocratic regimes that have sent more of their young population to Daesh (or ISIS) than to universities?”

Other panelists participating were Soraya Tlatli, who teaches a course in Berkeley’s French department on the terrorist attacks on the journal Charlie Hebdo and Bartolomeo Conti of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.

This event was sponsored by the Institute of International Studies, the Kadish Center for Morality, Law and Public Affairs at the Berkeley School of Law, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Institute of European Studies and the France-Berkeley Fund.

Watch a video of the complete panel discussion.