Emory experts see trends in Paris terror attack

Jan. 9, 2015

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Emory's experts on international law, human rights and terrorism are noticing some troubling trends in this week's terror attack in Paris on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Abduh An-Na'im, an expert in international law, Islam, Shari’a and human rights, says the attack is a stark reminder of a larger international crisis.

"Obviously, we should have an immediate response by tracking down and punishing these crimes anywhere in the world," says An-Na'im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory. "But we also should have a larger strategy for eradicating threats to humanity itself like ISIS and other terrorist organizations.”

"We shouldn't be repeating old formulas; new thinking is needed," he says. "The knee-jerk approach is not working. This means we have to think of ways to eliminate the possibility of ISIS and similar organizations, not just how to contain them.

"This task in not for Muslims alone because they did not create the problem alone in the first place and don’t have the means to achieve the task alone now."

Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at Emory Law's Center for the Study of Law and Religion, says the attack highlights two recent and worrying developments:

  • The shift away from planned large-scale actions to unpredictable and almost unpreventable strikes committed by loosely or unaffiliated radicals; and
  • The entitled feeling of power that these radicals seem to have. "The idea that you can kill other human beings because you did not approve of their comic is ironically itself almost a cartoonishly preposterous proposition," he says.

"This is no longer about specific countries or specific ways of life," Goldfeder says. "Leaders from China and Russia, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have all agreed that these cowardly attacks are to only be condemned. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right recognized the world over, and the swift universal reaction against this violation should awaken everyone to the dangers of terror and compel future efforts to prevent it."

Terror psychologist Anthony Lemieux says the Paris attacks underscore the importance of understanding the motivations for terrorism, as well as the public response.

"Also critically important is the question of the extent and nature of the training, skills and planning that was exhibited in the attacks," says Lemieux, an adjunct professor in Emory's School of Medicine and Rollins School of Public Health. 

"The perpetrators appeared to be reasonably well coordinated, methodical and planful," he says, "yet there are reports of behaviors and mistakes (going to the wrong building, leaving identification in the getaway vehicle) that would trouble the notion of 'professionalism.'

"Finally, in many instances, the attackers do not plan to get away, but rather to die in the course of the attack," he says. "This was decidedly not the case here, which has implications for the potential of future/follow up attacks, and for the fundamental motivations involved."