The Sociological and Cultural Factors Behind the Paris Attack


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Anthropologist Scott Atran interviewed would-be and convicted terrorists to learn about the combination of religion, European culture and influence from terrorist organizations that drove the gunmen in the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Atran, who is a professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, recently returned from Paris, where he spoke with members of the shooters’ communities. He spoke with Nature about what he discovered:

Unlike the United States, where immigrants achieve average socioeconomic status and education within a generation, in Europe even after three generations, depending on the country, they’re 5–19 times more likely to be poor or less educated. France has about 7.5% Muslims and [they make]up to 60–75% of the prison population. It’s a very similar situation to black youth in the United States.

The difference is here’s an ideology that appeals to them, it’s something that’s very attractive to more people than you might think. In France, a poll by [ICM Research] showed that 27% of young French people, not just Muslims, between 18 and 24 had a favourable attitude toward the Islamic State. The jihad is the only systemic cultural ideology that’s effective, that’s growing, that’s attractive, that’s glorious — that basically says to these young people, “Look, you’re on the outs, nobody cares about you, but look what we can do. We can change the world.”

And of course they are. These three lowlifes, they managed to capture the entire world’s attention for the better part of a week. They mobilized all of French society. That’s a pretty good cost-benefit for the bad guys.

Continue reading here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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