Why The Paris Attacks May Signal A Shift In Extremist Violence

by Nick Robins-Early – January 17, 2015

The Huffington Post

Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. Today, we speak with professor Saskia Sassen about the attacks in Paris and new forms of violent extremism.

Cities are increasingly part of the front line when it comes to challenges faced by governments worldwide, such as forced migration, environmental issues and extremist attacks.

As more and more people move to urban centers, theorists contend that cities have become instrumental parts of a globalized world — and sites of new types of conflict and violence. Terrorist attacks such as the 2005 al Qaeda bombings in the London subway, the 2008 terror operation in Mumbai and last week’s deadly assaults on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris highlight that cities have become a site for asymmetric war in which insurgents or extremists target powerful states and armed forces.

Columbia University Professor Saskia Sassen is one of the most prominent figures addressing the role of cities in relation to globalization, conflict and migration. She has done seminal work conceptualizing the world and the place of cities within it, coining the term ‘global city.’ Her most recent book is Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy. The WorldPost spoke with Sassen about how the attacks in Paris fit into ideas of extremism and the city.

What does it mean for a city to be a front-line space for extremist attacks?

A city can be situated either inside or outside the theater of war. On the one hand you have cities that are inside the theater of war, such as Baghdad. On the other hand you have a broader space where asymmetric war plays out even though it doesn’t involve the actual combatants who are in the theater of war. The bombings in London, the attacks in Mumbai and the bombings in Madrid took place outside the theater of war. That’s what makes these attacks disturbing, that they can be locally produced and that they don’t need to be in connection with the guys who are in the theater of war.

In the case of Paris, we now believe that there was communication between the attackers and the theater of war. [Al Qaeda in Yemen has claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack and Amedy Coulibaly, the suspect in the kosher supermarket killings, said he was a supporter of the Islamic State group.] In the cases of the attacks in London and in Madrid, they were not connected.

Does Paris mark a new shift in the way these attacks occur?

We don’t know all of the facts yet, but I think Paris may represent the third generation of asymmetric war. We had the first stage in Iraq and Afghanistan itself, the second stage are the bombings in London and other cities, and the attacks in Paris reflect the third stage.

Click here for the full interview.