Two Years After the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, Europe Remains a Soft Target

The difference between Europe and the United States is that 9/11 changed American policies and public attitudes about security

PARIS, FRANCE- Tributes of drawings, flowers, pens and candles are left in front of the Charlie Hebdo offices on January 14, 2015 in Paris, France.
Tributes of drawings, flowers, pens and candles are left in front of the Charlie Hebdo offices on January 14, 2015, in Paris, France. Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

January 7 marks the second anniversary of horrific terror attack perpetrated on the magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris.

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A trio of ISIS terrorists, two of whom were brothers, murdered 17 innocent people and wounded 22 others, sending shock waves across the Western world. The attack was a watershed moment; it was not the first terror attack to rock Western Europe, but it certainly had the most impact.

The satirical publication and the kosher supermarket were symbols of Western life and culture, symbolizing freedom and communal assimilation. And the attack against them was a strike against the very institutions that brought about the modern free state of France in the late 1700s in the guise of the French Revolution. The attacks were a calculated move by ISIS to destroy that culture.

Terrorists, especially ISIS and al-Qaeda’s executioners, select targets with very clear criteria. Symbols emerge as high priority targets because of the message that they send to not one but two constituencies.

The first constituency is the targeted community. In the case of Charlie Hebdo attack that would be secular, non-Muslim France as well as the country’s Jewish population. The second constituency: all potential followers and disciples of the gangs, both silent devotees and active agents throughout the world.

In that way Charlie Hebdo was, for ISIS in Europe, as big a target as the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was for al-Qaeda in the United States on 9/11.

The attacks in Paris in January of 2015 were devastating, and yet, life returned to normal. The immediacy of terror threats and terror itself subsides. And sadly, the culture of Europe did not learn to change their defense systems because of the Charlie Hebdo attack.

And so, unfortunately, on Friday, November 13, 2015, horror stuck Paris at the Bataclan Theater and two other targets. One attack along a street lined with restaurants and their accompanying diners, and one is a soccer stadium. The toll: 130 innocent deaths and 360 wounded.

Again, the targets were the important symbols in Europe. The soccer match was an exhibition game between France and Germany, and French President Francois Hollande was in attendance. Had security not stopped the three bombers outside the stadium where they blew themselves up, hundreds if not thousands of people would have likely been injured from the stampede alone.

The Bataclan, where 89 of the innocent victims were killed, was the central target in this coordinated attack. The theatre was an important target. The mainstream press did not seriously consider the numerous threats, protests and publicity in the Arabic press that identified the Bataclan Theater as having been owned (though it had been sold at the time of the attack) by two Jewish brothers named Pascal and Joel Laloux, but the Arab world knew the back story. The Laloux family often used the facility to host fundraisers for Jewish causes, including Friends of the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces. The theater was known to be sympathetic to Israel.

The difference between France (and Europe in general) and the United States is that 9/11 fundamentally changed policies and attitudes in America. Up until 9/11 the United States approached terror the same way France did before, and sadly still after, Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan.

No longer. The United States after 9/11 finally recognized that it its citizens were targets at home and while abroad. As a result, the government invested significant money and manpower to fight terror and to bolster security.

Europe still has not quite learned these lessons. And so, two years after the Charlie Hebdo attack and more than a year after the Bataclan attack, a wreath is placed and a small memorial ceremony is organized. But real changes in laws and defense are slow to arrive.

The only way to truly honor those who were brutally murdered is for Europe to wake up and seriously consider the threat they face, to stand tall and confront that threat not just with words but with deeds.

Two Years After the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, Europe Remains a Soft Target