I had settled into a seat at a theater in northern Virginia to watch “Trumbo” and glanced at my smartphone to silence it, and I saw the first message about the attacks in Paris, on Friday, November 13, 2015 at about 11 PM local time. As of 4 AM local time, 4 or 5 of the attackers had been shot, but it was thought that probably over 20 were still at large.
After the film, there was not much awareness in the large crowds of what was going on.
Getting home, I find continuous coverage of the “Bloodbath” on CNN’s page on AC360. Vox has a constructive article on how this event should be viewed in light of the refugee crisis, here. Major broadcast networks continued their normal programs on Friday night in the US (which surprised me). NBC Datelines at 10 PM ET covered the attacks.
I do know a few people in Europe. I won’t mention any more details here, but some have commented on social media already, but others haven’t. I’ll keep checking.
Some commentators have compared this to Mumbai in 2008, in the way it was carried out.
But what seems most striking is the ambiguity of the locations affected. Terrorism analysts have already noted this. It is true, sports events have been targets before (Munich in 1972), as have concerts (as with an incident in Russia in 2003 as I recall) or bars and restaurants (in Indonesia in 2002). Instead of picking targets for direct or even associative political or religious messages, the point seems to be that there is no point, or that almost anyone can be a target or some convenient reason of the attacker’s whim. This sounds like nihilism. But the whole country of France is shut down at least through Saturday, so the attackers have, in a sense, started a war on civilians. Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” (Books blog, Nov. 9) gets into the psychology of this toward the end.
Conservatives will make something of the gun control issue. European countries have strict gun control for ordinary citizens, and that didn’t help here.
There is the issue of the large number of sympathizers of radical Islam arriving in Europe. There is also the issue of the “misuse” of social media (most of all Twitter) which will get blame. But the barbarism and nihilism connect issues like inequality and personal insularity (and even lack of resilience), which seem to leave a lot of young men in some parts of the world with a sense of meaningless when they see it.
But as a foreign policy issue, all of this seems like the result of the policy of Bush and Obama in Iraq and, less directly, Syria.