(Paris, France – November 21, 2015: Flowers and messages from around the world at Place de la République in memory of Paris attacks by Islamic State.)
Reading the news throughout 2015, it’s hard not to think back to a frosty September morning more than a decade ago: September 11, 2001, the day terrorism embedded itself in the American conscious for good. The attack on the World Trade Centers in New York City then seemed both unprecedented and unrepeatable, a horror that could never be replicated, let alone become routine.
And yet, 2015 was barely a week old when our ally France was plunged into a crisis of its own, an attack the BBC called France’s worst security crisis in decades: the three day ordeal that played out at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
The newspaper, which had drawn criticism in the past for its strong anti-religious stance, was attacked on January 7th by two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, apparently in retaliation for satirical depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Armed with military-grade gear and apparent training, they left behind eleven dead and eleven injured before being killed themselves in a siege three days later.
Although Paris and the people of France did their best to rebound and recover, the Charlie Hebdo attacks formed one half of a bookend for a painful year in Paris history.
On November 13, 2015, Paris was again struck by terrorism, this time in a set of coordinated suicide bombings and shootings centered around the Paris soccer stadium Stade de France. The attacks, claimed by radical state ISIL in retaliation for French involvement in Iraq and the Syrian civil war, left over 130 dead. But they also drew French citizens into the streets in a display of national solidarity, carrying signs reading “not afraid,” refusing to be terrorized. When the German soccer team playing in Stade de France was advised not to return to their hotel, the French players stayed with them, sleeping on mats in the stadium overnight.
Just a few weeks later, and just a few days ago, the specter of radicalized terrorism struck close to home once again, in San Bernadino, California. Here, the confusion was rampant as the government, police, survivors and onlookers struggled to make sense of a shooting that left 14 dead at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino. It wouldn’t be until December 6th that President Obama finally announced the shooting was being considered a terror attack, carried out by a married couple who had become “self-radicalized” in support of ISIS. It appears they intended to back up the shooting with an improvised bomb that failed to detonate, but even now certainties and clear details are few and far between.
All this stems, in many ways, from the ongoing violence and instability in the Middle East, as ISIS and ISIL continue to gain ground and the civil war in Syria drives a hotly contested refugee crisis in America and much of western Europe. 2015 has been shaped by acts of terror, close and far, in friendly countries and hostile ones. Going forward into 2016, we hope for a year without terror, and time to heal and understand what drives this kind of pain and hatred.