The whole of France, but more particularly Paris, is coming to grips with the worst-ever terrorist attack on its soil in recent memory. Six almost simultaneous attacks have left in their wake 129 dead and more than 350 injured, including almost 100 in critical condition.
President Hollande, together with most other French political leaders, recognize that we are in a state of war. For just the third time since 1955 a state of emergency has been declared, but this is the first time that it has been extended to the whole of France. Border controls have been reinstated, street demonstrations have been banned, police and military presence has been reinforced, and people suspected of links with terrorist groups or preachers of hate have been assigned to residence.
Paradoxically, both fear and defiance are palpable as was demonstrated when the two suicide bombers blew themselves up in front of the entrance gates to the Stade de France, where 80,000 spectators were watching the football match between France and Germany. Initially they reacted with panic running on to the pitch, but then they left the stadium in an orderly manner singing “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.
Bruce Hoffman in Inside Terrorism defines terrorism as “the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change.” All terrorist acts involve violence and are specifically designed to have far-reaching psychological effects beyond the immediate victims or object of the terrorist attack.
In the case of the attacks in Paris the intent was to shock and, by shocking, to stimulate nationwide fear and alarm. Even more importantly, terrorism, as practiced by Islamic State, recognizes no difference between civilians and military personnel, because their war is not primarily against a specific nation or state but against a culture.
How should we react as Christians?
1. Mourn with those who mourn.
Families have lost loved ones; many have been seriously or permanently injured and face an uncertain future. Pray for the churches in the Paris area as they reach out to families, neighbors, and friends who have been victims of these attacks that they may not only help them rebuild their lives but also be signposts to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. Pray for our leaders.
President Hollande, together with his government in consultation with his advisers and military leaders but also his political adversaries, will be making difficult decisions in the days to come. Because many of those decisions will have far-reaching consequences, pray for wisdom that they may humbly seek to promote justice and peace rather than revenge.
3. Be peacemakers.
Quite understandably, the large Muslim population of France fears reprisals and indiscriminate acts of revenge and violence. Such anger has frequently led to an escalation of violence. Pray that we may reach out to our Muslim friends and neighbors with acts of kindness but above all with the message of the “prince of peace.”