In the wake of the terrorist attacks which killed at least 129 in Paris on Friday, people are asking why France in particular was targeted by the Islamic State. The Islamic State detests the entire Western world and seeks to destroy it and replace it with a global Islamist caliphate. Yet it prioritizes which countries to attack and when.
The reasons listed here are by way of explanation from the Islamic State’s point of view, to help our readers understand. They are not to be taken as a justification of the Islamic State’s actions, which ultimately are caused by their hateful extremist ideology.
Here are the top five reasons why the Islamic State attacked France and Paris in particular.
France has been fighting the Islamic State and other Islamists.
French President Francois Hollande led his country into airstrikes against the Islamic State, bombing targets in Syria for the past two months. It was the first country in Europe to join America in bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and has so far been the only European country to join airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.
France also led the fight against Islamists in North Africa, it was French soldiers that liberated Timbuktu from Islamist insurgents belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali.
The Islamic State is therefore fighting those who fight it the most, in an effort to persuade the civilian population of France that the war is about French foreign policy and not about a global Islamist Caliphate and to cow them into submission through terror.
France has specifically named the Islamist ideology as the problem.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after the Charlie Hebdo attacks France is at war with radical Islam. The French Ambassador to America clarified afterwards, saying, “We are at war with radical Islam. It means that right now… Islam is breeding radicalism which is quite dangerous for everybody.” Not only has France named the problem but they are taking active steps against the Islamist ideology within France, not just against groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, but also against groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which promote the ideology of Islamism that leads to violent extremism.
France is standing up for its values and seeking to integrate Muslims
Prime Minister Manuel Valls explicitly stated, “We seek to establish a model of Islam that is fully integrated, fully compatible with the values of the Republic.” This is anathema to ISIS as they cannot countenance an integrated Islam which operates peacefully within a broader society. France is proactively attempting to integrate Muslims, which, if successful, would destroy the “Islam vs the world” narrative peddled by the Islamic State.
Paris represents the Enlightenment values of Western civilization.
The Islamic State decried the city as “the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe — Paris.” Paris is at the center of European and Western fashion, culture and literature and one of the great historical cities of European civilization.
France is where much of the enlightenment took place and where modern ideas about citizenship, human rights and the separation between religion and state were first articulated and formed.
For an Islamic State obsessed with symbolism, an attack on Paris is an attack on European/Western enlightenment values.
The Islamic State is obsessed with history and honor.
France is an old country with a long history. The Islamic State has a laundry list of grievances against France going back a thousand years. ISIS also hates Europe in general for its colonial past.
It blames France, in particular, for the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the abolition of the Caliphate following the First World War. France was one of the leading countries involved in the crusades in the 11th century, and it is where the early Islamic Caliphate’s advance into Europe was halted by French ruler Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732.
The Islamic State is obsessed with seeing itself as the revived Muslim Caliphate. It is therefore essential to its worldview that Europe’s old colonial powers are defeated. For similar reasons, ISIS has long threatened to conquer Rome, which would represent a symbolic victory over the long defunct Roman Empire.
Without that, the Islamic State cannot claim to avenge the centuries old grievances with which it is obsessed and thus cannot fulfil its claims to restore the ‘lost honor’ of the immah.